Gravy Train – Idiom, Meaning & Origin

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

The English language is full of idiomatic phrases that sometimes make no sense to anyone unfamiliar with their use.

The idiom gravy train means to do a job easily or make money with little effort, but if it was taken literally, it obviously makes no sense. There is no such thing as a train of gravy, and anyone new to the language would be sure to be scratching their heads over this. Becoming familiar with idioms and their use is a great way to begin mastering the English language, and using the term gravy train correctly is a great place to start.

What Is the Meaning of Gravy Train?

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A gravy train is an idiom used to describe a job or other source of income that generates abundant money with little effort. One may be said to be riding the gravy train in such a situation.

Idioms are a figure of speech. They can be a word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from their literal definition. They are used to add a suggestive flair to speech and writing and create analogies for humor or understanding. When you use them correctly, you add interest to your material.

It is often used to suggest that a person has wealth or comfort without actually deserving it. Still, this negative connotation isn’t always necessary as it could simply mean an easy task with easy gain.

For example:

  • The newly elected city commissioner relied on the gravy train of donors to campaign rather than put boots on the ground to learn who their constituents were.
  • The gravy train of free insurance is over because all it did was take hard-earned money from taxpayers’ pockets.
  • Accepting that position will be a gravy train for you after all your hard work and efforts in the field.

Gravy Train Origin

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Gravy train usage trend.

Gravy train is an American term dating back to the early 1900s. It is popularly believed to have originally been a railroad term referring to a train run that paid well with little effort on the part of the crew. At around the same time as the appearance of the term gravy train, the word gravy came to mean something easy to accomplish or something unexpectedly beneficial.

Let’s Review

Gravy train is an idiom, and it is not meant to be used in a literal manner. It was a slang railroad term that meant an easy job with little effort and is now used figuratively to describe the benefits of a job easily gotten with little or no effort.

It is usually used in a negative manner to hint that the recipient may not quite deserve the ease of the money gotten or that there is something dishonest about the benefits of the job. However, it can also simply be used to say a job was, or is easy, and that the pay was good for the minimal effort.