Coming Down the . . . Pike or Pipe?

The other day I was reading a writing sample for the class Meeting Notes Made Easy, when I found a sentence like this one:

We are waiting to see what comes down the pipe.

The sentence implies that you are standing beneath the pipe looking up–not a good idea.

The original expression is “coming down the pike.” It refers to coming down the turnpike, with the image of something getting bigger as it moves toward us.

graphic stating "coming down the pike...or pipe?" with a graphic of a turnpike and a person looking up a pipe

Knowing that language evolves, I checked the four fat, current dictionaries on my bookshelf to be sure “coming down the pike” is still the only correct version. Here are the results:

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition:

down the pike 1. in the course of events <the greatest boxer to come down the pike in years> 2. in the future <today’s advances only hint at what’s down the pike>

Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd Edition:

come down the pike N Amer. appear on the scene; come to notice. [Abbreviation of TURNPIKE]

The American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th Edition:

Idiom: come down the pike Slang To become prominent. [Short for TURNPIKE.]

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition:

Idiom: come down the pike Slang To come into prominence: “a policy . . . allowing for little flexibility if an important new singer comes down the pike” (Christian Science Monitor). [Short for TURNPIKE.]

Not one of these references mentioned “down the pipe” under either pike or pipe.

The experts have spoken: The expression is “coming down the pike.” Remember: The fact that Google offers 6,370,000 hits for “coming down the pipe” doesn’t make the expression correct–except maybe if you work for an oil company.

Perhaps someday a new ruling from the experts will come down the pike, but not today.

Are you hearing or seeing other incorrect expressions? Please share them.

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

23 comments on “Coming Down the . . . Pike or Pipe?”

  • Taking notes is not an easy thing, especially if it is a large gathering and sometimes some of the participants do not speak loud and clear. Therefore if the note taker is not attentive, it is very easy to mistake “pike” for “pipe”. Or it could be that the speaker erroneously thought that it is “pipe”. If I am taking notes and if something is said that is not audible or clear, I try to ask the person speaking what exactly he or she said. When the meeting is packed, people are calling in and the time is short, it is very easy to make mistakes while taking notes. That said, if someone was saying “coming down the pipe”, after the meeting is over, I would like to make sure what it meant by referring to the Concise Oxford Dictionary that is sitting on my desk, rather than googling it.

  • I often see and hear “all the sudden” instead of “all of a sudden” or better yet, “suddenly”.

  • Perhaps this represents a conflation of the idiom “in the pipeline” with “down the pike.” The second MW definition of “down the pike” refers to anticipating the arrival of something.

    From In the pipeline’ – If something’s in the pipeline, it hasn’t arrived yet but its arrival is expected

    BTW, it could have been the speaker or the notetaker conflating the two.

  • I hear it said both ways and realized that American idioms can be confusing and even slightly different from region to region. Course, that probably holds true for pronunciations. Thanks for the clarification!

  • Hi, Renga. Thank you for your very interesting comments from the notetaker’s perspective. You describe well the challenges of taking meeting minutes.

    In notetaking classes, I recommend that writers avoid recording speakers’ exact words. If you record main points, decisions, and action items, you can usually avoid expressions such as “coming down the pike” [or “pipe”].

    I appreciate your taking the time to share your views.


  • Hi, Debra. I like your guess about “in the pipeline” combined with “down the pike.” It is certainly possible.

    Thanks for pointing out that the problem could lie with either the speaker or the writer. In the end, I believe the writer gets the praise or blame for the correctness of the notes.


  • Hi, Sharon. You are right: Expressions are different from region to region. I try to think beyond my own region and choose expressions that are widely regarded as correct. Thus, my four fat dictionaries!


  • This reminds of the use of “home in” versus “hone in.” Because they sound so similar – like pipe and pike – people may not know what the original phrase is. I’m not even sure I know!

  • Let’s not forget, “I could care less.” If that’s true, then one must care. Typically, people say that to emphasize that they do not care. It should be, “I could not care less.” Complete opinion: the phrase should not be used. But if one insists on using it, please be accurate.

  • Hi, Val. You may be interested in a conversation that has continued for more than five years on this blog in response to the post “Hone In or Home In?” Some strong opinions are still swirling on that subject. I believe this one will be less controversial.

    Your comment reminded me of the expression “holding one’s cards close to one’s chest”–or is it “close to one’s vest”? Or does it make any difference? I haven’t researched the evolution of that expression yet, but I think I prefer “vest.”

    Thanks for dropping by.


  • Thanks Lynn, I wasn’t aware of this sentence though I come across so many times. Really it’s a great learning and care of these sentences. I will definitely share in next comment when I will meet these type of sentences. Thanks a ton for sharing.

  • My favorite is “it’s a mute point” … how moot became mute is a mystery but I’ve been hearing it more and more. If the point is mute, we shouldn’t be talking about it 🙂

  • I would think that over 6 million Google returns may not make it “correct” but certainly proves it is not “wrong”. It may indeed be a generational difference, whilst I may not useth such vernacular currently it doesn’t make it correct or incorrect, only a sign of the ‘tymes’ 🙂


  • Hi, Chris. As a business writer, I am afraid I must respectfully disagree. Six million Google hits does not save an expression from being wrong. It only means the expression appears six million times for Google to find.

    I am certain highly offensive expressions can be found tens of millions of times, but that does not convince me to use them in business writing.

    I prefer to use dictionaries and style guides to help me determine whether something is correct.

    Thanks for dropping by and sharing your view.


  • Hi Lynn. I’ve always liked the misused; ‘one fowl swoop’. It gives me an image of chickens raining from the sky.
    ‘One fell swoop’ however, as was first used in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, whilst in fact talking of chickens, actually heralds from the french ‘fel’ meaning felon or terrible evil.
    In one fell swoop, my opinion of this phrase was changed forever. It is indeed darker than flapping chickens!

  • I have heard the expression, “Coming down the pipeline” or “filling the pipeline” and always thought that I understood these expressions and that anyone using “pike” was confusing the phrase.

    I see know that “pike” is the correct word. However, I want to make sure I’m not in the minority here . . . has anyone heard the word “pipeline” used in a phrase to mean the “flow” of projects or information, like the ones I used above?

  • Hi, Matt. I have often heard of projects “in the pipeline.”

    I believe if you use “in the pipeline” and “coming down the pike” you will be fine. I recommend avoiding “coming down the pipe” or “pipeline.”


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