I regularly hear the idiom "falling turn off the wagon", together in "Has Robert Downey Jr. Fallen off the wagon?" (i.e. Is he drink alcohol again?). Where did the phrase originate? What wagon? and also why is being "on the wagon" associated with being sober?


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From The Encyclopedia the Word and Phrase Origins, through Robert Hendrickson:

The original version the this expression, "on the water wagon" or "water cart," i m sorry isn"t heard anymore, ideal explains the phrase. Throughout the late 19th century, water carts attracted by horses wet down dusty roadways in the summer. At the elevation of the barred crusade in the 1890s men who vowed to avoid drinking would say that they to be thirsty indeed but would rather climb aboard the water dare to acquire a drink 보다 break their pledges. Native this sentiment come the expression "I"m ~ above the water cart," I"m trying to avoid drinking, i beg your pardon is very first recorded in, of all places, Alice Caldwell Rice"s Mrs. Wiggs that the Caggage Patch <1901>, whereby the consumptive Mr. Penis says it come old Mrs. Wiggs. The much more alliterative "wagon" soon replaced cart in the expression and it was at some point shortened to "on the wagon." "Fall off the (water) wagon" do its entry into the language practically immediately after its abstinent sister.

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Meaning

World broad Words explains:

However, the speak is undoubtedly originally American and it is linked with wagons, of a sort. The initial form, which dates from the early on years the the twenty century, was to it is in on the water-wagon, implying that the speaker to be drinking water fairly than alcohol and also so to be an abstainer, at least for the moment being. The image of the horse-drawn water-wagon would have actually been an apparent one at the time — it was provided to spray unpaved American roadways in the dried summer months to dampen down dust thrown up by the traffic. A direct attach with the temperance movement — really active at the moment — would seem probable, despite I’ve no been able to create this for sure.

Wagon

The OED to speak on the wagon is initially from the US and has it from a 1906 publication by Bert Leston Taylor titled Extra Dry: being additional adventures the the Water Wagon:

It is better to have been on and off the Wagon than never ever to have been on at all.

Water wagon

The OED has on the water wagon indigenous a 1904 Dialect Notes:

‘To it is in on the water wagon’, come abstain from hard drinks. N.Y.

I found several larger examples. The Staunton Spectator and also Vindicator (Staunton, Va., may 24, 1901):

Every day us hear men say "I to be on the water wagon".

The St. Luigi Republic (St. Louis, Mo., January 18, 1903):

Well, i tried to job-related the gag on a bartender in Cincinnati not long ago. Gammon and also I dropped right into a quiet ar near the theater, and I bespeak a high ball.

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"I to be something of a ventriloquist, together you know, and also when i casually asked the dog what he would take, he replied: "Well, I"m on the water wagon, yet I"ll take it a sandwich."

The Salt Lake Herald, (Salt Lake City (Utah), December 24, 1903) reports of "An ubraintv-jp.com Blunder":

Charles Warner the ubraintv-jp.com actor tells the following on himself: "A couple of nights after i reached brand-new York ns asked to have actually a drink. The replied: "I am on the water wagon." "On the what?" ns asked. He explained, and also I assumed it to be a great one and resolved to spring it immediately. 2 days later on I met Mr. Hawtry and he inquiry me to join him a high ball. "Sorry, old fellow," i said, "but ns am on the washtub, don"t friend know?" Beastly blunder, but an extremely ubraintv-jp.com, was it not?"

Water cart

I"m top top the water cart is claimed to have actually been an initial recorded in Alice Caldwell Rice"s Mrs. Wiggs the the Caggage Patch (1901), yet I found it in The Red Cloud Chief (Red Cloud, Webster Co., Neb., July 06, 1900) in "A Tragedy in Slums: romance in the short Life of brand-new York":

She visited a couple of of she friends and also confided come them she to be going to get married.