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Down the pike vs. down the pipe

The idiom meaning soon to happen or appear was originally coming down the pike, not coming down the pipe, but both forms are now widely used and understood.

In coming down the pike, the noun pike is short for turnpike, which is a broad road, sometimes a toll road. This usage of pike originated in the U.S. in the early 19th century, and the earliest known instances of coming down the pike appeared around 1900. Pike soon fell out of use and has survived almost exclusively in this idiom, so it’s understandable that so many English speakers resist using it. Meanwhile, pipe is of course a very familiar word, and things do come down pipes sometimes, so it’s easy to see why pipe has taken pike‘s place in the idiom, even if the pipe metaphor doesn’t hold up under logical scrutiny.

Examples

In current searchable news publications, down the pipe appears once for every two instances of down the pike (though some instances of down the pipe have to do with plumbing). Examples such as these are easy to find:


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Luck is the all-world, can’t miss, best quarterback prospect to be coming down the pipe in decades. [Toronto Sun]

More austerity coming down the pipe doesn’t bode well in the months ahead.  [Business Insider]

But examples like these are about twice as common:

A showdown over the debt limit is coming down the pike. [NY Times Economix blog]

An important aspect of succeeding in business is knowing what the competition is up to and what’s coming down the pike. [Washington Post Capital Business blog]

The next Republican hostage-scenario is coming down the pike.  [truthout]

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Comments

  1. coming down the pipe refers to the use of vacuum tubes to send orders and messages in a cannister

  2. I think that the analogy to “pipeline” as a metaphor for workflow has either grown out of the “coming down the pipe” or alongside it. In that sense, things do “come down the pipe(line)” as they approach your required input.

  3. Could this be a west coast, east coast thing?

  4. FWIW, Google search for the exact phrase shows twice as many with “pipe” as “pike”.

  5. Laura Preston says:

    The reason “pipe” has come into usage is because it sounds like “pike” and “pike” is misunderstood by some. Same reason people say “step” foot instead of “set” foot (the right one) and “butt” naked instead of “buck” naked. People mishear it or don’t understand the real expression and so make up their own with a sound-alike that comes close enough in meeting. Same thing with “jerry” rigged instead of “jury” rigged. I could go on.

  6. James Edward says:

    Could the examples please show more political bias? ;)

  7. daveinpublic says:

    The examples you gave have business insider using down the pipe and nytimes using down the pike. Not helping down the pipe much.

  8. Jeremy Stroud says:

    While I know that pike is the proper usage, I never hear it outside of newspapers exclusively. I’ve noticed myself using pipe now since that’s what others around me use. What can I say, language is what we make of it. ;-)

  9. JohnnyNomad says:

    I hear more often than not that “coming down the pint” is used

  10. Victoria says:

    Thanks for this – cleared up some confusion today in our team meeting :) $0.75 @changetip

  11. Misuse of this idiom annoys me to no end, although ‘mute point’ is even worse.

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