This Week’s Origin

“on the wagon/fall off the wagon”- to abstain from drinking alcohol (usually hard drink) or to start drinking again after trying to abstain. Both terms have been in use for around a hundred years. ‘On the wagon’, which came first, is a shortened expression derived from ‘on the water wagon’. Before paved and tarmac’d roads, water wagons used to spray the dirt roads to keep dust down, and anyone abstaining from hard liquor was said to be ‘on the water wagon’, no doubt because the water wagon presented a convenient alcohol-free icon. Vehicle-based clichés make for amusing metaphors although we now take them for granted – ‘in the cart’ (in trouble, from the practice of taking the condemned to execution in a horse drawn cart); ‘on your bike’ (go away), ‘get your skates on’ (hurry up); ‘get out of your pram’ (get angry); off your trolley (mad or daft – not sure of this origin – possible the metaphor of a mad person dismounting from a hospital trolley?)