Topsy » top seed

Chiefly in:   grow like top seed

Classification: English – final d/t-deletion – idiom-related

Spotted in the wild:

  • “That’s what’s insidious about club drugs,” he says. “One: We didn’t recognize the problem. Two: It’s growing like top seed.” (Orlando Weekly, July 26, 2000)
  • The Amado Territory Ranch is anchored by an 11-room bed and breakfast inn, Amado Territory Inn, that has spectacular views and serene natural surroundings. The rest of the land was quickly leased by other vendors. “It just grew like top seed,” Art Gould said. (Arizona Daily Star, Jan. 5, 2004)
  • In fact, these grow ops, which are fuelled by organized crime, are growing like top seed right now under the current law, which criminalizes any kind of possession or trafficking of marijuana. (Parliament of Canada, Edited Hansard, Mar. 8, 2004)
  • “The commandos and the public order brigades sort of grew like top seed, very quickly, without much control, and without much training,” the American commander said. (International Herald Tribune / New York Times, Dec. 29, 2005)
  • [Robert Altman:] I get a bunch of actors together, I say, “Let’s do this—you be this character; oh, you want to do that? Okay.” It kind of grows like top seed. (Time Out New York, June 8-14, 2006)

Analyzed or reported by:

The original expression is “just grew like Topsy,” referring to Topsy in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, who “jes grew.” As the original referent of “Topsy” becomes less and less familiar, the term has been reanalyzed by some as “top seed,” which sounds like something that might grow quickly.

| link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2006/08/10 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by Clive , 2006/08/22 at 2:11 pm

    My wife’s parents nicknamed her Topsy (because, of course, she “grow’d” when she was in the womb.) She is now 36 and her family have never used her given name of Helen. (In fact, I think that they’ve forgotten it because they look at me oddly whenever I use it.) So no chance of the original meaning disappearing in this family. Unfortunately :).

    It’s worth noting that the original phrase is itself widely misinterpreted. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, when Topsy was asked who made her she replied, “I spect I grow’d. Don’t think nobody never made me.” It really had nothing to do with growing quickly or out of control, so perhaps this eggcorn of “top seed” actually makes more sense.

  2. 2

    Commentary by Karen , 2006/11/14 at 2:16 pm

    Ha! Thanks for the enlightenment! I always thought that “topsy” was a fast-growing plant. Kind of like kudzu. I also thought the expression was British in origin.

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