Pull the Plug – Idiom, Meaning and Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Pull the plug means to stop or terminate a process, project, or activity. If you’re imagining someone literally yanking a cord out of an electrical socket, well, you’re not far off from where this expression started.

Idioms like this one are phrases where the words together have a different meaning than their individual definitions. They paint vivid pictures with words, adding color and vibrancy to our conversations for everyone to understand. But idioms are only effective if implemented correctly. Things like spelling, punctuation, and context really matter. So, I’ll discuss the deeper meaning and origin story before sharing a few sentence examples for pull the plug.

Pull the Plug Meaning Explained

Pull the Plug – Idiom Meaning and Origin 1

At its core, pull the plug is what you’d say when bringing something to an abrupt halt. Whether it’s canceling a project, ending a relationship, or stopping some other process, this idiom is your verbal stop sign. Just imagine yanking the plug of any appliance from the wall. What happens? Everything stops.

Pull the Plug Origin and Etymology

Pull the Plug Ngram
Pull the plug usage trend.

The origin of “pull the plug” is in three parts. There’s nothing to pinpoint its beginning, but it’s a fairly straightforward idiom that doesn’t stray too far from its literal intent.

Some sources state the idiom derives from the act of pulling the plug on machinery, which cuts off the power and shuts down all operations.

Another theory is that it comes from the medical industry and taking loved ones off of life support, aka literally pulling the plug on the life support machines.

There are older origins that claim the saying comes from the flushing systems of the 18th century. Some of the first toilets required you to pull down on a plug to release water to flush everything out.

Either way, the humble beginnings of this idiom all point to the same idea: ending something.

Synonyms for Pull the Plug

If you’re ever in a jam and need another way to express “pull the plug,” here are some handy alternatives to try!

  • Call it quits
  • Shut it down
  • End the game
  • Drop the curtain
  • Turn off the tap

Using Pull the Plug in a Sentence

Pull the Plug – Idiom Meaning and Origin 2

  • The renovation project was draining our resources, so we decided to pull the plug on the whole thing.
  • If our sales don’t double by next month, they’ll pull the plug on our product line.
  • I’m so glad my sister finally pulled the plug on that toxic relationship.
  • The director pulled the plug on the scene when it became too chaotic for the actors and crew.
  • Investors are threatening to pull the plug if profits don’t increase.
  • “If this little experiment doesn’t yield results by next Friday, I’m pulling the plug,” said the lead scientist.
  • The band was excited about their tour, but unforeseen circumstances made them pull the plug and reschedule.
  • After three unsuccessful sitcom pilots, the network pulled the plug on the show.
  • The city council pulled the plug on the proposal for the festival because of safety concerns.
  • The mechanic said that if we didn’t replace the engine soon, nature would pull the plug for us.

Pulling the Plug on This Idiom

Idioms like “pull the plug” are such fun ways to express ourselves to others, whether in conversation or in our writing. So, the next time you want to call it quits on something, just say you’re pulling the plug! Check tons of other idiom guides on our site to bulk up your vocabulary!