September 12, 2014

Pitcher "pulled the chain"

I must look up the origin of at least three phrases a day. I always find myself wondering where they came from - and that wonder must be satisfied. It must!

Last night I found myself wondering about a baseball phrase. Sports announcers will often say the pitcher "pulled the chain" on a ball. They sometimes add "and the bottom dropped out". What they mean is that the ball dropped at the last instant, causing the hitter to miss with his swing. The pitcher fooled him.

On my own (i.e., without Wikipedia's help), I figured this baseball phrase has probably been around for a long time and may be tied to the old toilet tanks from the 1940s and 50s. Toilets were weird back then, with water positioned in a tank high above the toilet bowl. When you wanted to flush, you pulled the chain and the water dropped down. Flush accomplished.

It just seemed like a natural: you pull the chain and the bottom drops out. Sadly, my instincts were off.

It's a miners' term -- but hey, I wasn't that far off. Well, okay, I was. But it does have something to do with toilets. Here's one version of the origin (there are several):
"...this phrase comes from old miners who would carry a length of chain with them for a very specific purpose. The bathroom that was used in the lower levels of the mine was actually on wheels on a track so it (along with all the waste) could be moved out of the mine when it was full. It was a common practical joke to unlock the break and push the "honey wagon" down the track while someone was sitting on it. So, miners carried a length of chain to lay in front of one of the wheels to act as a brake in case someone decided to pull this prank. Hence the phrase, "Don't yank my chain".
Hmph. Now I know, and so do you.

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