Coming Down the Pike
Can you tell me which is correct: coming down the pipe or coming down the pike? I have heard it both ways.
The original expression is coming down the pike, but it may be going the way of our friend free rein.
The word pike in this expression is a shortening of turnpike.
Originally “turnpike” meant a toll booth, but came to mean the highway itself.
My Southern grandmother would say things like
That Bessie Dean would take up with the first man that came down the pike.
The expression coming down the pike originated before the days of TV and the internet. In those days most new ideas came to town by way of the highway. Upon opening the morning newspaper, one might say
Let’s see what’s new coming down the pike.
Here’s a quotation from an international website about economics:
There is more bad news coming down the pike, news of such magnitude that no amount of ordinary manipulation is liable to conceal it.–GlobalResearch.ca
In Arkansas pike in the sense of “road” is still fairly common.
In other regions, speakers unfamiliar with the term try to make sense of the expression “coming down the pike” by altering pike to pipe.
For these speakers the metaphor is that of a substance moving through a pipe or a pipeline and not of someone walking along a highway.
The “coming down the pipe” version can only be nurtured by such things as a blog advertising The Pipeline Show. The blog title is “Coming Down the Pipe.”
Also derived from the turnpike pike, the words pike and piker were nineteenth century West Coast terms of contempt for poor white migrants from the Southern states–rather like the word Okie in the twentieth century.
An English dialect word piker with the meaning of “vagrant, tramp gypsy” existed as early as 1828. Vagrants wander the “pike.”
The U.S. word with the similar meaning is thought to derive from the name of a county in Missouri. Presumably many poor people from Pike County moved to California to find a better life.
As happens with ethnic slurs, the word piker took on more and more negative meanings.
piker: 1. Originally: a cautious or timid gambler who makes only small bets; one who plays for small stakes. Hence: a person who takes no chances; a cowardly or stingy person; a shirker, a ‘small-timer’.
2. Finance. A small-scale speculator or investor.B. adj. (attrib.). Mean, shirking, cowardly.
When I was growing up I often heard my father and his brothers use the word piker in the sense of “cheapskate” or “tightwad.”
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