PULLING OUT ALL THE KNOBS
I love using the phrase pulling out all the stops. It's a whimsical and positive way to describe when every effort is made in an endeavour. However, I had never given any thought to its etymology before a friend told me this very cool tidbit. The term was coined sometime in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century as a reference to organ playing, where a stop would refer to a knob controlling a set of pipes. When all of those knobs are pulled out at once, all the stops are pulled out, and the organ is making the loudest noise that it can possibly make. The first attestation I can find of the phrase being used figuratively is from a 1927 edition of The Oxford Magazine, when it described a particularly eloquent speech. Since then, usage of the phrase has been steadily increasing, with a peak in 2012.
Leave a Reply.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.