Pull the Plug (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Pull the Plug"?

The term "pull the plug" means to bring something to an end. It stems from the idea of pulling the electrical-supply plug from the wall, thereby causing the machine to stop functioning.
Pull the Plug (Origin)
"Pull the plug" originated in the medical industry in the mid-20th century, where it referred specifically to pulling the plug from a life-support machine. Therefore, "pulling the plug" was used as a metonym (a related term) for turning off a life-support machine. As such, it is also a euphemism for ending someone's life.
  • We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma. (US Senator Chuck Grassley)
  • (This quotation refers to "pull the plug" in its original sense, i.e., the plug on a life-support machine.)
The term "pull the plug" is typically used figuratively to announce the end of a project or another venture. It carries the connotation of the project or venture falling short of completion.
  • Your research is expensive and yielding no usable results. Expect the CEO to pull the plug at the end of the year.
  • The Czech tennis federation wasn't holding me back, but they could still pull the plug anytime they wanted. (Tennis star Martina Navratilova)
  • (This quotation refers to "pull the plug" in figurative sense, i.e., ending something like a project or an aspiration.)
From a grammatical perspective, "pull the plug" is an example of alliteration, which contributes to its popularity.

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See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

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