Q From Miros Wicek: ns was wonder if you could explain the etymology that to it is in on the wagon as an interpretation ‘to abstain from drink alcohol’.

You are watching: What does on the wagon mean

A over there are numerous stories around its origin. Perhaps the most common one states it beginning from prisoners who were on their means to jail on the earlier of a wagon. Castle were permitted one last drink in the local pub before the implemented temperance inside. A variation describes condemned prisoners on the way from Newgate jail to it is in hanged at Tyburn being enabled to protect against at a hostelry to have actually a last drink before being put ago on the wagon for the final part of your journey come execution. Solid so. A young American to be a tiny nearer once he composed that, ‘My teacher says it was during the temperance activity when guys would parade about town on a wagon to display they’ve conquered their demons’.

Since the Salvation military is very keen ~ above temperance, it isn’t surprising the the phrase has actually several times been attributed to them. An American Sally army Web site says firmly that: “Former national Commander Evangeline Booth — founder wilhelm Booth’s daughter — journey a hay wagon v the highways of new York come encourage alcoholics on board for a ride earlier to The Salvation Army. Hence, alcoholics in restore were claimed to it is in ‘on the wagon’”. The resource seems impeccable, yet the Sally army is, alas, perpetrating an additional version of the same folk etymology.

However, the saying is without doubt originally American and also it is connected with wagons, the a sort. The initial form, which dates from the at an early stage years the the twentieth century, to be to it is in on the water-wagon, implying the the speaker was drinking water rather than alcohol and so was an abstainer, at the very least for the time being. The picture of the horse-drawn water-wagon would have actually been an apparent one at the time — the was used to spray unpaved American roads in the dried summer month to dampen down dust thrown up by the traffic. A direct link with the temperance motion — very active at the moment — would certainly seem probable, despite I’ve not been may be to create this because that sure.


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The English language is forever changing. Brand-new words appear; old ones fall out of use or change their meanings. World vast Words do the efforts to document at least a component of this moving wordscape by featuring new words, native histories, indigenous in the news, and also the curiosities of native English speech.