As a dad, I find it important to teach my son key life lessons. Of course, I’m talking about how to master “Super Mario Bros 3” on the original Nintendo. Last week I dusted off my childhood gaming system and plugged it into our smart TV.
After a couple of tries wiggling the 30-year-old cartridge, we soon found ourselves ingesting powerful mushrooms and flattening angry goombas. Also, I taught Miles how Mario goes down the pipe. This is important, as Mario and his brother Luigi are plumbers who collect coins in the basement of magical pipes.
This brings me to an important phrasal distinction: is it “coming down the pipe” or “coming down the pike”? I’ve heard people say both.
I’ll cut to the chase: it’s “coming down the pike.” Pike, in this usage, is short for “turnpike.” When something “comes down the turnpike,” it gets starts out small and indistinguishable, but then it gets bigger as it comes closer, and eventually crosses your path. This phrase has evolved to indicate that something is approaching in the near future. It has also come to mean something that is “coming into prominence.” It has nothing to do with coming down Pike’s Peak, in case you were wondering.
Using “down the pipe” in the same way as “down the pike” certainly makes sense, but isn’t the original phrase. That being said, when something is “in the pipeline,” that indicates something is moving its way through an organizational workflow. This could be in a corporate project management sense or through the system of professional baseball teams, from the lower minor leagues up to the major leagues. This is no pie in the sky pipe dream, here.
The bigger question here is: does it matter what people say if we know what they mean? Will someone “pipe up” to correct you if you utter an incorrect phrase? Perhaps, but I at least like to know which one came first, and which one is technically correct, even if both phrases do, in fact, make sense. In the original Middle English, “turnepikes” were big, spiky turnstiles in a road that prevented a horse from passing through until its rider paid the toll. Something that came down the pike was often unexpected, like a pied piper poking a marshmallow peep.
As someone who lives in an old house, I always pray that things go “down the pipes,” but that, as in “Super Mario Bros 3,” has everything to do with plumbing. When referring to things happening in the near future or something appearing on the scene, use “coming down the pike.” When you’re at work discussing a project workflow, use “in the pipeline.”
Curtis Honeycutt is a syndicated humor columnist. He is the author of Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life. Find more at curtishoneycutt.com. Honeycutt writes a weekly column published in The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.