"lead pipe cinch" and plumbers 1893

Michael Quinion TheEditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Sun Jun 13 18:55:22 UTC 2004

Sam Clements wrote:

> Michael Quinion noted in his column
> http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-lea2.htm
> that no connection between the plumbing trade/device for "cinching"
> pipe together, etc had been found.
> A story from the Dec. 13, 1893 Washington Post says that
> "The master plumbers assembled for their annual feast last evening,
> and they had a veritable lead pipe cinch.  Every plumber was in the
> best of humor, as he had a right to be, for the winter is the harvest
> time.  Then the cold grows strong and the pipe joints are weak."
> No device here, but it does tenuously connect the plumbing biz with
> the phrase, if only humorously.

This is interesting, if only to show that the expression was even by
then well enough known that it could be applied in this way. But I
would suggest that the humour in the association only arises if the
source of the expression hadn't been in plumbing to start with.

Several World Wide Words subscribers have asserted that there was a
device that acted like a wrench to hold lead pipe, but using a fabric
strap to avoid crushing or scratching the soft material (it was named
by one writer as a strap wrench) and that this was in fact the lead
pipe cinch of the expression. I found no examples of "pipe cinch"
(which might have resulted in the  compound "lead pipe-cinch" being
reanalysed as "lead-pipe cinch") or any citation that suggested a
link between plumbing and cinches.

If anyone can help to take this forward, it would be one fewer
etymological puzzle for subscribers to tax me with!

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <TheEditor at worldwidewords.org>
Web: <http://www.worldwidewords.org/>

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