pike » pipe

Chiefly in:   coming down the pipe

Classification: English – nearly mainstream

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To “come down the pike” is an idiomatic slang expression where “pike” is an abbreviation of “turnpike.” (See definition below) It is extremely common, however, for people to say “come down the pipe” instead, which is clearly a reshaping based on a phonetic error combined with a semantic reinterpretation. Both are metaphors.

An interesting possible semantic difference: while a turnpike has barriers which must be overcome (as toll gates), a pipe generally does not. The original phrase using “pike” may have been meant to signify a “coming into prominence” that will occur once obstacles are overcome, while the eggcorn using “pipe” may emphasize that the “coming into prominence” is inevitable and only a matter of time.

pike³ (pīk) n.

  1. A turnpike.
    1. a. A tollgate on a turnpike.
      b. A toll paid.

intr.v. piked, pik·ing, pikes

To move quickly.

come down the pike

To come into prominence: “a policy… allowing for little flexibility if an important new singer comes down the pike” (Christian Science Monitor).


| link | entered by thiebes, 2005/07/14 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by Eric Wetmiller , 2005/07/28 at 8:35 pm

    “Coming down the pipe” originates in early 20th Century when Buildings were getting taller and mail rooms were invented. Upstairs workers dropped outgoing mail into a pipe that led down to the mail room. Workers in the mail room would hear the echo of the mail in the pipe and would wonder what was “Coming down the pipe”.

  2. 2

    Commentary by Neil , 2005/10/20 at 2:46 pm

    Coming down the pipe is surely a valid technically-derived term? If software is being downloaded from the Internet to your computer, it is valid to use the jargon “pipe” (meaning network connection) and say that you have software “coming down the pipe”. In this case it seems to have been transferred across to hardware.

  3. 3

    Commentary by Joel , 2005/12/14 at 4:01 pm

    Personally, I don’t think of “coming down the pipe” as referring to a download or network connection, but to a production process, which is often described as a pipeline. Pike or turnpike are infrequently-used terms where I live. Perhaps we all have creative definitions of these phrases, which may be part of the confusion!

  4. 4

    Commentary by Lana B , 2006/07/06 at 4:40 pm

    The expression Coming down The Pike owes its origin to the 1904 St Louis World Fair

    Among the most memorable features of the 1904 World’s Fair was a walkway known as The Pike (Eads bridge). It was the most extravagant entertainment area ever constructed at that time. Visitors were so stunned they would say “there was always something new coming down The Pike.”

  5. 5

    Commentary by Michael Chambers , 2006/07/09 at 10:44 am

    Either term is acceptable. Pike is the old use, pipe is the modern use. It’s a lot like playing cards close to the vest or chest. The vest is the older usage, chest the more modern usage, since vests are not commonly worn nowadays.

  6. 6

    Commentary by speedwell , 2006/07/15 at 5:07 am

    Here in Houston, in the “awl bidness,” I only ever hear “coming down the pipeline.” The way petroleum products are sent down a pipe is much like the way freight trains are sent down the track. They pump a pipeline full of one product, then they impose a buffer (depending on the miscibility of the following product) and then they pump the next product, and so forth.

    It does have the sense of inexorable arrival on its own schedule rather than your own. Sometimes I hear the same idea expressed as “It’s in the pipeline.” For example, “We haven’t finalized the procedure for the go-live yet, but we know it’s in the pipeline.”

  7. 7

    Commentary by Alan , 2006/07/27 at 9:45 pm

    I’m going to respectfully disagree on this as an eggcorn. The phrase is surely older than the 1904, as there are references to “coming down the pipe” in literature prior to the World’s Fair. In addition to the above mentioned mailroom usage, being on the lookout was called “being on pipe” - a reference to the spyglass used. And the phrase is almost universally “coming down the pipe” in England. It seems that only those in the U.S. are prone to saying (or hearing) “coming down the pike.”

  8. 8

    Commentary by Nigel , 2006/08/01 at 6:26 pm

    I agree with Alan - the first time I heard the expression “coming down the pike” was when I moved to the USA. We Brits say “coming down the pipe”.

  9. 9

    Commentary by Pike Man , 2006/11/06 at 4:32 pm

    ‘Coming down the pike’ dates back to an idiom used by Greek phalanxes in the 2nd century B.C. The Greek phalanx was a column formation of heavy infantry carrying swords and long spears known as ‘pikes’. After the conquests of Alexander the Great, the Greek army was considered invincible, a scourge from the gods that could not be resisted. The Greek ranks brought utter destruction to any army that opposed them. Out of this reality, the term ‘coming down the pike’ became associated with imminent destruction at the hand of the advancing Greek armies. The sight of columns of Greek soldiers with their pikes poised and ready for slaughter struck fear into resisting armies, causing many of them to turn and run for their lives, yelling ‘Take up the wing, for destruction is coming down with the pike!” The recollections of war-torn veterans spread these stories among the populus, and the phrase was soon shortened to “coming down the pike.” From that day, the phrase “coming down the pike” has been used to convey the imminent arrival of something that cannot be resisted.

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