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Hey, Music Fans!

Why do we say the same, centuries-old phrases and sayings? Most of the time we say them without even knowing it. They’re so built in to our daily speech that we don’t even think about it. Folks find themselves saying phrases like ‘Stick out like a Sore Thumb’ and ‘Showing the Ropes’. Today we’re examining the origin of the phrase ‘Pull Out all the Stops’.

What does it mean? This is one common saying whose message isn’t quite so clear (though you may be able to guess from the context in which you’ve heard it), ‘Pull Out all the Stops’ means to make every possible effort in order to make something happen. So what exactly what kind of ‘stops’ are we talking about pulling out here?

Well, several centuries ago, people started using the word ‘stop’ in a musical context. It actually referred to a key or note. Thus, a sheet of music could be described as being ‘full of stops’.

With its foot already in the musical door, 'stop' sort of dropped its connotation as a musical note and went on to be used to refer to the knobs in pipe organs that control the airflow through the pipes—either by pushing them in or pulling them out. Pulling out the stops increases the volume coming out.

At this point in time, anyone talking about pulling out the stops was literally referring to these pipe organ knobs. However, the phrase slowly acquired a figurative sense. It was first recorded with figurative use in an 1865 essay written by one Matthew Arnold.

The next time you’re faced with a challenging task, pull out all the stops to see it through! Enjoy another adage origin Blog post from the past by clicking right here. And, as always, thanks for reading!


- John

Posted in Adage Origin


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