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Prime the pump
Posted: 11 May 2017 09:49 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Much merriment to be had by reading this Washington Post article in which Trump claims to have invented the figurative usage of prime the pump. Nonsense, of course, although Merriam-Webster’s claim that it’s been around since at least 1933 seems rather slipshod for that dictionary. OED gives a figurative example from the letters of the Wizard of the North dating to 1819.

1819 Scott Let. 18 Jan. (1933) V. 295 Thus ended her attempt, notwithstanding her having primed the pump with a good dose of flattery.

Edit: Ah, I see my mistake. The Scott letters were published in 1933.

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Posted: 11 May 2017 11:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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From your OP i gather that you are referring to Sir W. Scott as “The Wizard of the North”. I was under the impression that this was the sobriquet of Michael Scott (12-13 c.), rather than Walter?

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Posted: 11 May 2017 01:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Good Lord, that would be embarrassing! But no, it is Sir Walter. I’ve been a great admirer of his novels and some of his poetry (though certainly not all) my whole life. Wikipedia will suffice to confirm, I’m too idle to look up a more definitive source.

There followed a succession of novels over the next five years, each with a Scottish historical setting. Mindful of his reputation as a poet, Scott maintained the anonymity he had begun with Waverley, publishing the novels under the name “Author of Waverley” or as “Tales of...” with no author. Among those familiar with his poetry, his identity became an open secret, but Scott persisted in maintaining the façade, perhaps because he thought his old-fashioned father would disapprove of his engaging in such a trivial pursuit as novel writing. During this time Scott became known by the nickname “The Wizard of the North”. In 1815 he was given the honour of dining with George, Prince Regent, who wanted to meet the “Author of Waverley”.

I should have simply said Scott but the sobriquet is well-known and I’ve always loved the sound of it.

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Posted: 12 May 2017 01:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The Scott ref, though a figurative use of this phrase, doesn’t have the specific meaning to which The Donald refers.

The OED does present a couple of specifically relevant citations:

1916 Everybody’s Mag. 35 131 When the waters of business are stagnant, gentlemen, it becomes necessary, if I may say so, to prime the pump.
1992 Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald Amer. 8 Nov. c2/1 In the short term, that money should be used to prime the pump—create jobs immediately and lessen the duration and severity of the recession.

Because it is such an obvious metaphor, it may have been used independently several times before becoming a stock phrase. Google Books Snippet View of the Congressional Record turns up more instances in the 1930s and 1940s than you’d think could happen by chance, though. Here is a snippet from 1935 in which someone alludes to a previous use of this term, and then uses the metaphor to make a point about financing, labouring the point somewhat. (1935 is the date Google Books comes up with: given that the RFC was commenced in 1932, perhaps this quote is actually from 1937).

“We will create the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and give them two or three billion dollars to loan, to prime the pump.” We have been doing that now for 5 years, appropriating money to prime the pump, and the pump is Still unprimed. What have we been using with which to prime the pump?  Those Senators who have been raised on a farm are familiar with the old-fashioned pump, the handle of which has to be shaken up and down, and after a while, if the pump is operating, water begins to come from the pump; but if the pump is dry the pump must be primed. You can put some water in the pump to prime it. Then, if you prime the pump with water and there is water in the well, and the pump is otherwise efficient, you will begin to get some water. If, however, there is no water in the well, what are you going to do? If there is no water in the well you can prime the pump for 5 years and you will not get any water back. You may have a hard time getting your priming-water back. That is the condition today.

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Posted: 12 May 2017 04:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Economists and their jargon!  Aldi’s Wapo article begins:

This is the eternal undercurrent of the Trump era: Does he actually mean what he says? Is he riffing? Is he joking? Is he serious? Is he exaggerating? Is he lying? President Trump’s conversations and statements and braggadocio all live in the same nebulous cloud encompassing all of those possibilities, a Schrodinger’s box in which the cat has no fixed state until you look inside — and even then you’re likely to be told that the very dead cat you’re holding is, in fact, alive.

Who, steeped in the linguistic miasma of the dismal science, can read that without thinking that Mister Trump is
questing after a dead cat bounce?

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Posted: 12 May 2017 04:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Dr Evil - “He would make outrageous claims, like he invented the question mark.”

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Posted: 12 May 2017 05:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Discussed at the Log.

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Posted: 13 May 2017 05:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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languagehat - 12 May 2017 05:31 AM

Discussed at the Log.

Ends with a tidy zinger

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Posted: 13 May 2017 10:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I wonder how many people know that one prepares a pump for use by pouring water in it, as the OED says. I didn’t, having never had occasion to give any thought to the matter. More to the point, would Trump know it?

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Posted: 13 May 2017 12:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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kurwamac - 13 May 2017 10:45 AM

I wonder how many people know that one prepares a pump for use by pouring water in it, as the OED says. I didn’t, having never had occasion to give any thought to the matter. More to the point, would Trump know it?

Would Trump know about pumps and water?  Not likely.  However, he was at least nominallly a student at the Wharton School, where Samuelson’s basic text, Economics, an Introductory Analysis, was used.  Samuelson owed much to Keynes, and either the text itself or classroom discussion may well have used the pump priming language.  I recall—or think I recall—hearing the expression used in graduate level Wharton classes. 

When economists speak of pump priming, they generally understand it to mean the application of stimulus, both monetary and fiscal, to an economy that is in decline or barely growing.  The expression has been used for such a long time that it may have lost its connection to actual pumps, somewhat as the figurative “give it a shot in the arm” has.  If that one is a mystery, have a look
here.

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Posted: 13 May 2017 11:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Priming of pumps was particularly important before the 19th century. At that time, washers and seals in hydraulic equipment were usually of leather, which had to be kept moist in order to remain flexible and do its job. In the 19th century, rubber took over from leather as a sealing material, and pump priming (though still at times called for) was less frequently required.

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Posted: 14 May 2017 09:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Very interesting stuff. I hadn’t even thought about what priming a pump actually involved. I’m sure I’ve only ever used the phrase in its figurative sense.

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Posted: 14 May 2017 09:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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One of the downsides of having a memory like mine (perhaps this will be some comfort to aldi) is the amount of useless trash that gets stuck there.  In second episode of Green Acres, Eb is helping the Douglases settle into their new home ("the Haney place") and there’s a bit of business about the absence of running water.  The only source of water is a hand-operated pump in the kitchen.  Pumping it produces no water.  Eb explains you have to prime it.
Mr. Douglas: Well, what do you prime it with?
Eb: Water

That was enough to get a laugh from the laugh track.

The house I grew up in had a covered well or cistern (recollections differ) with a traditional old hand-cranked pump. We didn’t use it a lot (we had running water) but I don’t recall ever having to prime it.  We weren’t supposed to drink the water, but once in a while in summer we’d sneak some because it was so delightfully cold.

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Posted: 14 May 2017 12:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I remember from Boy Scout days having to start a hand-operated pump with short, fast strokes and settling down to slower, longer strokes once the water got flowing.

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Posted: 14 May 2017 11:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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One of the downsides of having a memory like mine (perhaps this will be some comfort to aldi) is the amount of useless trash that gets stuck there.

I’m sure you know as well as (probably a lot better than) I do, Doc, that that “useless trash”, which you somewhat disingenuously (or perhaps tongue-in-cheek) deplore, is one of memory’s most valuable assets. There is no such thing as “useless trash” where memory is concerned. The nearest thing approaching “useless trash”, is all the preconceived notions which we tend to imbibe during formal schooling, and must subsequently rid ourselves of, as far as we can.

[ Edited: 15 May 2017 03:49 AM by lionello ]
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Posted: 15 May 2017 04:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Just going back to the Wizard of the North issue, it seems that everyone is right. The 12th-13th-century Michael Scot(t) was the original Wizard of the North, but his profile was considerably raised by in 1805 when Walter Scott, who claimed to be his (presumably collateral) descendant, mentioned him in The Lay of the Last Minstrel. The sobriquet having been drawn to the public’s attention, it began to be applied to Sir Walter himself - who is also credited with having devised the stage name The Great Wizard of the North’ to the hugely successful Scottish stage magician, John Henry Anderson (who incidentally certainly popularised, and may actually have invented, the producing of rabbits out of hats).

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