Circling the drain
Posted: 22 October 2012 03:32 AM   [ Ignore ]
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This is one I don’t remember ever hearing before a couple of weeks ago, and now I’ve heard it twice.  An example would be “The Yankees, down 3 games to none, aren’t eliminated but they’re circling the drain”.  Is this a new phrase?

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Posted: 22 October 2012 04:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s been around for years, although I couldn’t put any date on it. No appearance in OED though, which is unsurprising as both the circle (v.) and drain (n.) entries are 19th century vintage (no relevant draft additions either).

Interestingly, and this is totally unscientific, a search with GABS (Google Advanced Books Search) yields many results setting the latest parameter at 1990 but they slim down to only a few (and those not checked) if the second parameter is changed to 1980. Make of that what you will.

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Posted: 22 October 2012 07:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The phrase is used in the 2000 movie Titan AE.

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Posted: 22 October 2012 08:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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What a remarkably apt metaphor, with its vivid vision of that little whirlpool above the plughole of the bath, just before the water goes down (and at one remove, of course, A Descent into the Maelstrom ;-). I’d never seen it before.  Thanks, jtab 4994, and congratulations to whoever thought it up!

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Posted: 22 October 2012 08:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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In the Google News Archive there is a “circling the drain” found in 1989, “circle the drain” appears in 1985.

I have this feeling that I have heard it for decades but my feelings are not much use in such things. I also have this feeling that it was medical slang for a patient’s deteriorating terminal condition. I worked in hospitals from 1966 through 1982.

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Posted: 22 October 2012 09:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Never heard it, but I agree with lionello - it’s a neat little phrase and very apt.

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Posted: 23 October 2012 05:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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New one to me too but I shall certainly be stealing it and using it at the earliest opportunity :-)

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Posted: 23 October 2012 06:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Dating it to the early ‘80s seems right; I think I’ve been familiar with it about that long.

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Posted: 23 October 2012 07:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Yes, it’s definitely been around since then. I would have even pegged it earlier, but memory is unreliable, so the early 80s is probably right.

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Posted: 23 October 2012 08:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I’ve decided to make it the title of the most recent chapter of my memoirs.

;-)

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Posted: 24 October 2012 11:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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droogie - 22 October 2012 08:26 AM

I also have this feeling that it was medical slang for a patient’s deteriorating terminal condition.

I’ve definitely heard it in that specific context as well.  Since I’ve never worked in the medical profession, it’s likely that I heard it on a hospital-themed TV show.

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