on the wagon
Originally on the water wagon or on the water cart, referring to carts used to hose down dusty roads: see the 1901 quotation below. The term may have been used by the early 20th-century temperance movement in the United States; for instance, William Hamilton Anderson (1874 – circa 1959), the superintendent of the New York Anti-Saloon League, is said to have made the following remark about Prohibition: “Be a good sport about it. No more falling off the water wagon. Uncle Sam will help you keep your pledge.”
- Hyphenation: on the wa‧gon
- (idiomatic) Abstaining from drinking any alcoholic drink, usually in the sense of having given it up (as opposed to never having partaken); teetotal.
[1901, Alice Caldwell Hegan, “How Spring Came to the Cabbage Patch”, in Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (Project Gutenberg; EBook #4377), New York, N.Y.: Published by the Century Co., De Vinne Press, published 26 July 2009 (Project Gutenberg version), OCLC 301653, archived from the original on 24 October 2015, page 124:
- I wanted to git him some whisky, but he shuck his head. 'I'm on the water-cart,' sez he.]
- 1917 (first published 1918 March), Edgar Rice Burroughs, “The Oakdale Affair”, in Blue Book Magazine (Project Gutenberg; EBook #363), Chicago, Ill.: Story-Press Corp., published 25 January 2013 (Project Gutenberg version), OCLC 270523625, archived from the original on 30 March 2016; republished in The Oakdale Affair; The Rider, Tarzana, Calif.: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., 1937, OCLC 8951886:
- "Sit down, bo," invited Soup Face. "I guess you're a regular all right. Here, have a snifter?" and he pulled a flask from his side pocket, holding it toward The Oskaloosa Kid. / "Thank you, but;—er—I'm on the wagon, you know," declined the youth.
- (by extension) Maintaining a program of self-improvement or abstinence from some other undesirable habit.
- He’s been on the smoking cessation wagon for two weeks now.
- ^ “On the wagon”, World Wide Words, Michael Quinion, created 18 July 1998, last updated 27 January 2006.
- ^ “on the wagon” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary (2001).
- ^ Robert Hendrickson (1997) The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, rev. and exp. edition, New York, N.Y.: Facts On File, ISBN 978-0-8160-3266-2.