[Ads-l] kingpin

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 11 12:53:38 EST 2018

OED3 has 1861 as the earliest date for the extended use of "kingpin"
meaning "a person who or thing which plays a central part in a system or
complex arrangement; spec. the most important or outstanding person in an
organization, enterprise, etc."

As I discuss in my latest Wall Street Journal column (
http://bit.ly/kingpinbz), this usage can be found in New York City /
Brooklyn newspapers going back to the 1840s, originally in the context of
the criminal underworld. Here are some cites.

New York Daily Herald, Apr. 29, 1844, p. 4, col. 3
Hatfield alias Milton is known as one of the shrewdest and most industrious
of his "profession." He is considered as the "king pin" of the "knucklers,"
or chief of the pickpocket tribe of this country.
The Subterranean (New York), Nov. 21, 1846, p. 2, col. 4 [ProQuest]
Now, who for a moment supposes that this KING PIN, in every species of bank
note shaving, stock jobbing and promissory note discounter, would give to
the public, through the columns of either of his journals, the benefit of a
revolution in the foreign markets until after he had availed himself of all
the benefits or the cream of its effect in this market?
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov. 18, 1850, p. 2, col. 4
But the appointment of Wm. M. Boerum as Clerk of the Common Council is the
astonisher of all! It proves that the "king pin" of the new majority is no
other than Mr. Spinola, who was thrown overboard at the City Convention,
but now comes up to the surface in triumph, and assumes all the powers of
dictatorship -- just as we predicted he would.
New York Times, Oct. 31, 1851, p. 2, col. 5
The German accordingly consented to embark in the nefarious business, but
as before stated, was detected in the act and secured, his accomplice (the
king pin in the affair) making good his escape.
New York Times, Dec. 16, 1852, p. 8, col. 2
Abraham Allen...is said to be the king-pin in these dangerous
counterfeiting operations.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 13, 1853, p. 3, col. 1
Moneyed institutions, they say, are powerful. No doubt of it. Deposit
$30,000 in a bank, and you may become a king pin at once.
Brooklyn Evening Star, Apr. 25 1859, p. 11, col. 3
N.D. Baxter...was one of the principals, if not the "king pin," who
contemplated circulating the aforesaid counterfeiters in this city, and
also in Brooklyn.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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