Pipe down and pipe up

Photo of author


Pipe down and pipe up are two idioms with uncertain origins. An idiom is a figure of speech that is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. We will examine the meanings of the expressions pipe down and pipe up, where they may have come from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Pipe down is an admonition to be quiet, to stop making noise or to stop talking. Related phrases are pipes down, piped down, piping down. The idiom came into use in the mid-1800, and is most probably related to the boatswain’s pipe on a sailing ship. In the evening, the officer would blow his pipe or whistle as a signal to retire below deck. This signal was known as piping down the hammocks.

To pipe up means to suddenly speak, especially when others do not expect it. Pipe up often refers to someone interjecting an opinion. Related phrases are pipes up, piped up, piping up. Coming into use in the mid-1800s, many believe that the term pipe up is also related to the boatswain’s pipe, though it is not known how. Others believe that the idiom pipe up refers to the pipe of an organ or a plumbing pipe.


Which is why I asked him Wednesday if his coach ever tells him to pipe down, in so many words. (The Detroit News)

Lionel Richie is the other powerhouse; Perry, seated in the center, frequently turns to him as the voice of reason on the panel, and in turn, Richie often is asking his co-judges to pipe down so they can hear the contestants sing. (Variety Magazine)

Whenever I’m training or racing and I’m starting to feel the pace I have a couple of voices in my head pipe up. (The Norfolk Eastern Daily Press)

But after Sotomayor’s comment, Justice Anthony Kennedy piped up. (U.S. News & World Report)