Recently, I heard someone use the phrase “coming down the pipe”. Considering that this phrase is technically wrong, I thought I’d write about it.

Down the pike

The phrase should actually be down the pikePike is a shortened (albeit out of date) form of turnpike, which is a type of roadway in the United States. A turnpike is typically a high-speed highway, often maintained by tolls.

The saying has been around for a long time, originating before the advent of television, radio, and television. All news came via travellers and messengers coming down the turnpike. Today, down the pike refers to something appearing or coming into view.

Down the pipe

While technically incorrect, down the pipe is a popular version of this saying. There are over 53 million results when searching for the phrase on Google. Compare that to only 16 million or so for down the pike. Granted, the above search results would include usage not specific to this form (such as “The city was laying down the pipe in the new subdivision.”).

Because pike is an uncommon (arguably archaic) word, people unsurprisingly hear it as pipe. The thing about down the pipe is that it makes sense. Pipelines, for example, deliver things (gas, oil, water, etc), and since their contents flow, the destination could be considered downstream of the origin. Likewise, some office buildings use a vacuum tube network to send and receive messages; messages sent through this network of pipes could be said to be coming down the pipe.

It probably doesn’t take much to see that down the pike is going to become extinct. Anyone hanging onto this relic will be technically correct, but they’re fighting a losing battle. If pike were a more common word, it might be a different story.

About Kim Siever

I am a copywriter and copyeditor. I blog on writing tips mostly, but I sometimes throw in my thoughts about running a small business. Follow me on Twitter at @hotpepper.

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