asleep at the switch

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Probably an allusion to the important responsibilities of a railway switchman.


asleep at the switch

  1. (idiomatic) Neglectful of an important task, responsibility, or opportunity.
    • 1909, Clinton Rogers Woodruff, "Municipal Review 1907-1908," The American Journal of Sociology, vol. 14, no. 4, p. 488:
      His vote demonstrates that the people of Philadelphia are not asleep at the switch, are not indifferent to their political duties.
    • 1922, P. G. Wodehouse, chapter 10, in Right Ho, Jeeves:
      My guardian angel had not been asleep at the switch.
    • 1974, S. D. Isard, "Review of Computer Models of Thought and Language," Science, New Series, vol. 186, no. 4164 (15 Nov.), p. 625:
      It is sometimes difficult to guess whether a sentence has been garbled by the author or the typesetter. . . . In either case, the editors were asleep at the switch.
    • 2003, Donald Bartlett and James Steele, "Asleep at the Switch," Time, 13 Oct.:
      Why America (but not Canada) failed to set up a needed synfuels industry.