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See also: stemwinder



A stem-winding watch


US, mid-late 19th century, originally referring to then-recent stem-wind watches (invented in 1840s, commercialized initially 1850s by Patek Philippe & Co.).[1][2] These were expensive, top-notch watches, hence generalized (1892[3]) to “top-notch”, particularly applied to speeches, or to the orator in question. Non-speech senses later fell out of use. Nuance of “rousing” speech possibly by analogy with watch being wound up (tighten by winding, excite, rouse).[4]

Circa 2000, later sense of “interminable speech” a folk etymology, in sense “a speech that lasts so long one must wind one’s watch”.[1][2]


stem-winder (plural stem-winders)

  1. A watch that is wound up by turning a small knob (at the stem).
  2. (US) A rousing speech, especially by a politician.
  3. (US) Someone who gives such speeches; a great orator.
  4. (US, proscribed) A boring, interminable speech.
    • 2000, Bill Schneider and Keating Holland, “What to look for Thursday at the Democratic National Convention”, August 17, 2000, CNN, “Clinton comparisons”:[2]
      Or – heaven forbid – the Bill Clinton of 1988, who gave a tedious stemwinder in 1988 that has gone down in the books as the worst nominating speech in recent memory?
  5. (US, obsolete) Something top-notch or first-rate.

Usage notesEdit

Note contradictory senses of “rousing speech” (earlier sense) and “boring speech” (later sense); use in the latter sense may be proscribed as a corruption, and is a folk etymology.

See alsoEdit

(rousing speech):


  1. 1.0 1.1 Stemwinder”, Michael Quinion, World Wide Words
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Larimore, Rachael (2004-08-31), “What's a Stemwinder?”, in Slate[1], retrieved 2012-10-23
  3. ^ stem” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001–2018.
  4. ^ Stemwinder: Cranked up.”, The Word Detective