On the fritz

Something that is on the fritz means out of order or not operating correctly. The idiom usually applies to electronic appliances and other machinery.

The origins of on the fritz are mysterious. The Oxford English Dictionary, which lists instances of the phrase going back to the first decade of the 20th century, says its origins are unknown.1 There are a few theories out there, but none are very plausible. The one thing on which everyone seems to agree is that on the fritz is an American coinage. It remains a primarily North American phrase (the equivalent in Australia and the U.K. is on the blink), but it’s not commonly used. To 21st-century Americans, it has a retro ring.


My DVR has been on the fritz lately, so I have been watching TV in real time. [Chicago Tribune]

I’m sure his stress level wasn’t helped by the air conditioner being on the fritz. [Montreal Gazette]

Within hours of its debut, the federal government’s ballyhooed new jobs board was on the fritz. [Washington Post]

The furnace went on the fritz in August or September. [Calgary Sun]


1. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/74817 ^

Other resources

“On the fritz” at World Wide Words

3 thoughts on “On the fritz”

  1. Since “fritz” was a slang word for “German” in the early years of the 20th century, when this term first appeared, I think it’s possible the term “on the fritz” might have been a pejorative referring to Germans not doing things the “right” (American) way.
    I think it’s possible “jerry-rigged” might share this origin, since “jerry” was also used as a derogatory term for Germans in the 20th century, although your website doesn’t mention when the earliest uses occurred.

    • mito has accidentally brought up another one to look at. Outside the States I think the term is jury-rigged and applies as ‘Why risk a wrong conclusion to the case when we can rig the jury’ in the sense of something being done that is not quite ‘kosher’ or professional – normally makeshift repairs. ‘After the storm, we jury-rigged the yacht so we could limp back to Port Douglas.’

  2. I agree with Mito re fritz, and would add there may be an additional implication of possible sabotage, its on the frtiz [and we don’t know why, its an ordinary thing that broke most inconviently]


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