Prime the pump

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Prime the pump is an economic term that has its roots in mechanical devices. Prime the pump is an idiom, which is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning. We will examine the definition of the term prime the pump, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To prime the pump, in economic terms, means to stimulate growth by seeding an endeavor or industry with money. This is usually something that a government does during times of economic downturn, in order to encourage businesses. Government may prime the pump by awarding tax incentives, favorable interest rates or outright grants. Related terms are primes the pump, primed the pump, priming the pump. The term prime the pump has been in use as an economic term at least since the 1930s, a time when economic stimulus by the government was imperative. The 1930s was also a time when many farms still depended on handpumped well water. The concept of priming a pump with water in order to create suction, allowing water to be drawn out of the ground, was a concept well-understood by most people.


With regard to Donald Trump bizarrely saying, and possibly even thinking, that he coined the term “prime the pump” with regard to economic growth — ably ridiculed by Jonah Goldberg — I write just to add a fun memory of another time that phrase was used. (The National Review)

Joe Lardy, research manager at CHS Hedging, said cold temperatures last week “primed the pump” for a weather-related rally in wheat. (The Mason City Globe Gazette)

The notion of priming the pump is associated with the British economist John Maynard Keynes, who theorized that a government could spur a recovery from a downturn with deficit spending. (The Post Bulletin)