Jumping on the bandwagon

That previous post, taking from Anne Treneman, had Dodgy Dave the Snakeoil Salesman:

It is rather extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman comes here, having not said that [Maria Miller] should resign, saying that she should have resigned. It shows all the signs of someone seeing a political bandwagon and wanting to jump on it. He is jumping on this bandwagon after the whole circus has left town.

I see there some dangers of a stale metaphor.

The OED‘s earliest citation for band wagon is from 1855 and the Life of P.T.Barnum, who must have known something about circuses and bandwagons:

In our subsequent southern tour we exhibited at Nashville (where I visited General Jackson, at the Hermitage), Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, Vicksburg and intermediate places, doing tolerably well. At Vicksburg we sold all our land conveyances, excepting the band wagon and four horses, bought the steamboat “Ceres,” for six thousand dollars, hired the captain and crew, and started down the river to exhibit at places on the way. At Natchez our cook left us, and in the search for another I found a white widow who would go, only she expected to marry a painter. I called on the painter who had not made up his mind whether to marry the widow or not, but I told him if he would marry her the next morning I would lure her at twenty-five dollars a month as cook, employ him at the same wages as painter, with board for both, and a cash bonus of fifty dollars. There was a wedding on board the next day, and we had a good cook and a good dinner.

 I like that, not just for the pragmatics of Barnum’s domestic arrangements, or even for that dry style. It also shows that the band wagon (two words) was the only item the circus didn’t leave behind and so onto which one might jump when the circus had already left town. One can see why, if this specimen is anything to go by:



We have to wait nearly half a century for band wagon to become a metaphor.

The OED has a bizarre citation from the Congressional Record 25th August 1893:

 It is a lamentable fact that.. our commercial enemy..should come along with a band wagon loaded with hobgoblins.

Indeed. Just the kind of thing that makes one seek the full source for explanation. Now, have you tried to access the Congressional Record for 1893? It is, apparently, out there on the net; but glacial it hardly approaches. So far I have not managed it, but I suspect it may be something to do with the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.

Note, though, that band wagon is still two separate words.

Teddy Roosevelt is of the two-word party in a letter of April 1899:

When I once became sure of one majority they tumbled over each other to get aboard the band wagon.

 That would be when he was tiring of life in Albany as Governor of New York, and when the New York Republicans were tiring of his radicalism, and the meeting-of-minds led to his nomination for the Vice-Presidency.

As far as I can see we didn’t get to bandwagon (as a composite single word) until the end of the 1950s. I wonder how many would recognise that Juggernaut of Barnum’s as a “band wagon”.

Oh, and the OED has Juggernaut as:

A title of Kṛishṇa, the eighth avatar of Vishṇu; spec., the uncouth idol of this deity at Pūrī in Orissa, annually dragged in procession on an enormous car, under the wheels of which many devotees are said to have formerly thrown themselves to be crushed.


Leave a comment

Filed under Ann Treneman, David Cameron, History, Oxford English Dictionary, Times, Tories.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s