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Pull out all the stops

  • Pull out all the stops is an idiom that has been in general use since 1909, though its origin may be found in the 1860s. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. An idiom can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the definition of the phrase pull out all the stops, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.


     

    To pull out all the stops means to proceed without reservation, to do everything possible to succeed, to spare no expense, to do something on an epic scale, to go all out, to exert every effort, to hold nothing back. The idiom pull out all the stops is derived from the musical instrument, the pipe organ. Related phrases are pulls out all the stops, pulled out all the stops, pulling out all the stops. The first figurative use of the word stops in relation to the pipe organ occurred in 1865, in Essays in Criticism by Matthew Arnold: “Knowing how unpopular a task one is undertaking when one tries to pull out a few more stops in that… somewhat narrow-toned organ, the modern Englishman.” A pipe organ is an instrument that consists of pipes, pedals, keyboards and stops. The organist is a busy musician. She must play the keyboard with her fingers and the pedal board with her feet, as well as regulate the stops by pulling out or pushing out the stops. On older organs, the stops are controlled by knobs that control pneumatic pipes. Today, a new organ usually features electronic stops. Closing a stop mutes the sound of that particular pipe, while opening a stop allows the sound of that pipe to swell, loudly. To literally pull out all the stops on an organ means the organ music will be very loud and magnificent, unencumbered by stops. Many denominations of churches feature fine organs, including Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran. The church organ is mostly used for sacred music such as hymns and other church music performed for the congregation during liturgical worship. However, churches may occasionally allow classical music concerts or organ recitals in the building. While playing the organ was limited to a select few for most of history, a home version of the organ came into use in the 1950s. Franz Rudolph Wurlitzer marketed the small, electronic organ in the United States. There are many fans of the organ, so many that Michael Barone presents a weekly radio show featuring the pipe organ, called Pipedreams.

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    Examples

    His name has spread all over the county as people pull out all the stops to raise money for vital treatment in America and now Zac Oliver’s name will literally be spreading all over Shropshire – after a gritter was named after the youngster. (The Shropshire Star)

    I was certain that Bill Spencer would pull out all the stops to ensure he didn’t lose custody of his son Will, but he never expected Ridge Forrester to have an ace up his sleeve. (The Canyon News)

    Ottawa police are “pulling out all the stops” to find Nakayla Baskin, the 11-year-old girl who disappeared without a trace early in the early morning hours of Sept. 25. (The Ottawa Citizen)


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