We’ve had a lot of discussions about the unknown around here lately. We have several projects spinning, I might get a new job, we might buy a house (for the first time), the list goes on. But nothing is sure on any of those fronts at the moment. It’s a whole lot of wait and see.
Last night through a mouthful of toothpaste, I quipped something to the dude about “never knowing what is coming down the pike.” And, ever the engaged listener, he said, “Are you sure it’s ‘coming down the pike’ and not ‘coming down the pipe’?
Yeah. I’m sure.
Actually, I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t just looked it up the other day because I didn’t know. And really, in modern English you can use either phrase. But if you want to sound oh-so-literary (not always a good idea, mind you), go for “down the pike.” You know, keep ’em guessing.
So, really, it’s “down the pike”?
Well, originally, yes. It was “down the pike.” Apparently, according to my sources which, unfortunately, do not include the insanely awesome Online Oxford Dictionary because it’s so cussing expensive, in the early part of the 20th century, people used “down the pike” kind of like “around the bend.” “Bend” was a bend in the road, “pike” was a “turnpike” or road. Before the days of the telephone and other fast media, news came from travelers who would arrive “down the pike.”
So when talking about not knowing what the future holds, one would say something about not knowing what was “coming down the pike.”
There’s this thing that happens in language – I’ll try to get the dude to find his fancy linguistic term and put it in the comments – where, when people don’t know why a word or phrase is what it is, they substitute something that makes more sense to them. It’s like with “tide over,” if you don’t understand the reference, it’s easy to think it should be “tie over,” like bridging two things.
In the case of “down the pike,” this has happened long enough and wide enough that “down the pipe” has become it’s own acceptable phrase. So you can probably use them both. But if you want to know you are the most correct you can be, use “down the pike,” since it came first.
I just searched to see if Grammar Girl had written on this topic (since I had only viewed explanations from the Grammarist and Daily Writing Tips), and while I don’t see that she has, she actually mentions “down the pike” in a post about linguistic oddities. And apparently slips of this type are called eggcorns. I’ll let you read for yourself why that is.
…what about you?…
Out of curiosity, if you use this phrase, do you say “down the pike” or “down the pipe”? Or, do you do what I did and avoid it altogether because you aren’t sure?