Whistle stop and whistle-stop tour

  • Whistle stop is an idiom that came into use in the early twentieth century. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, 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 like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. 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; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. 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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