Whistle stop and whistle-stop tour

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Whistle stop is an idiom that came into use in the early twentieth century. We will examine the meaning of the idiom whistle stop, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

A whistle stop is a small town or insignificantly tiny community. A whistle stop is usually situated in an area that consists of large swaths of unoccupied land. The expression whistle stop comes from the procedures used in railway travel. A train might not stop when passing through a small town unless a passenger wants to board or depart the train. If the train is going to stop, it blows the whistle to alert the community. The term whistle stop came into use in the 1920s; today, it is usually used in the phrase whistle-stop tour.

A whistle-stop tour is a campaign strategy in which the candidate moves quickly from small town to small town, giving a stump speech in each one. At one time, candidates traveled on whistle-stop tours on trains, stopping to make a speech from the caboose in each hamlet along the route. Today, candidates usually conduct whistle-stop tours from buses. Note that the adjective whistle-stop is hyphenated when used before the noun, tour.


The historic house had been dubbed the “Whistle Stop” by Gateway volunteers because whenever a train blew its whistle while traveling the nearby railroad tracks, volunteers working inside had to stop what they were doing because they couldn’t hear. (The Quad-City Times)

The sayings and slogans become variations of a politician’s stump speech, repeated at every whistle stop. (Sports Illustrated)

The appearance in Pittsburgh was part of a daylong whistle-stop tour beginning in Cleveland and ending in Johnstown. (The Pennsylvania Capital-Star)

President Jimmy Carter passed through Wayne on a whistle-stop tour in 1976 and in 1979, he was the commencement speaker at Cheyney University in Thornbury, the oldest historically black college in the United States. (The Daily Times)

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