Pull the plug

Pull the plug is an idiom that has been in use since the early twentieth century, though its exact origin is unknown. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, 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. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, 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 phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom pull the plug, where this phrase may have come from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To pull the plug means to end something, to bring something to an abrupt close, to withdraw one’s support for something. The phrase pull the plug may also be used to mean to withdraw life support in a medical situation. The expression to pull the plug came into popular use sometime in the 1920s, but its origin is uncertain. Some believe that it refers to pulling a stopper or plug out of a sink or other plumbing fixture in order to allow the water to drain down a waste pipe. Others believe that pull the plug refers to pulling an electrical plug out of a socket, cutting the electricity supply. This seems like a more plausible origin, as the idiom came into use as more and more homes were wired with electricity. Related phrases are pulls the plug, pulled the plug, pulling the plug.


It’s unlikely the GAA will pull the plug before the third year of the experiment is played, albeit with some tweaking to the Croke Park round and maybe the sequencing of matches. (The Irish Times)

Mainboard-listed telco StarHub, which said in November 2018 that it would pull the plug on its cable products and services, recently extended the deadline from June 30 to Sept 30. (The Business Times)

James Jeffrey, the US special representative for Syria, said countries should “pull the plug on Astana” if no progress is made by mid-December, when the UN Security Council is to receive a final report from UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, who is leading efforts to form a constitutional committee. (The Arab Weekly)

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