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.

Examples

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]

Reference

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

Other resources

“On the fritz” at World Wide Words

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