Monday, December 13, 2010

Lead Pipe Cinch

Pat asked about the phrase, lead pipe cinch. The original cinch was a saddle-girth, a leather strap with a buckle used to secure the saddle. If it was done correctly, you were guaranteed that the saddle would not start slipping, thereby dumping you to the ground. From a physical object, it developed into a metaphor, and a cinch became anything that was certain.

Lead pipe was added in the late 1890s as an intensifier, along with dead certain cinch and airtight cinch. It added certainty to certainty, much like screwing down a piece of wood that had already been nailed to a surface.

Why lead pipe? No one knows, but suggestions abound. Some say that a lead pipe has it all over a leather strap for strength and durability. Others say that it is a certainty that you can bend a lead pipe, which is ductile, as opposed to something like a steel bar. Another theory says that if you are securing something with a loop of rope, inserting a length of lead pipe and twisting it will add incredible leverage and result in an extremely tight cinch.

A note in The Word Detective quotes one J. R. Latimer as writing, "I lived for many years in Africa where often one found an older, low-tech form of plumbing. Lead piping was/is used to make critical junctures, and it is "cinched" to the pieces it connects, i.e., the faucet/tap and the incoming pipe. This makes for a very sure, no-leak joint, and to my understanding, the technique has been used since Roman times. Thus the expression ‘lead pipe cinch’ meaning a sure thing or absolutely.”

Pay your money and take your choice.

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