Make Your Editor Cry: Coming down the pipe vs. Coming down the pike

Make Your Editor Cry: Coming down the pipe vs. Coming down the pike

A pipe and a pike are very different things. The noun pike is short for turnpike, which is a broad road, sometimes a toll road. This usage of pike originated in the US in the early 19th century, and the earliest known instances of coming down the pike appeared around 1900 though it is now a very archaic sounding word.

Meanwhile, pipe is of course a very familiar word, and things do come down pipes sometimes, so it’s easy to see why pipe has taken pike’s place in the idiom, even if the pipe metaphor doesn’t hold up under logical scrutiny.

The problem is that this phrase is so often written incorrectly, even by so-called authoritative sources, that it can be confusing which is correct.

The correct expression is “down the pike” not pipe.

Incorrect:

Luck is the all-world, can’t miss, best quarterback prospect to be coming down the pipe in decades. [Toronto Sun]
More austerity coming down the pipe doesn’t bode well in the months ahead. [Business Insider]

Correct:

A showdown over the debt limit is coming down the pike. [NY Times (Economix blog)]
An important aspect of succeeding in business is knowing what the competition is up to and what’s coming down the pike. [Washington Post (Capital Business blog)]

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