The word gravy by itself was used prior to any attestable use of gravy train to characterise cushy situations. It is a shortening of the phrase riding the gravy train, referring to "a transportation vehicle that carries a number of people going the same way" or "to teach people". Note also phrases with hog train as possible source of analogy.
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- (idiomatic) An occupation or situation that generates considerable income or benefits while requiring little effort and carrying little risk.
- Synonym: sinecure
- 1895 November, (as quoted by Michael Quinion) Courier of Connellsville:
- Johnston claims that Reuben Nelson and another tall negro were in New Haven the night of the escape and that they broke into the lockup. Johnson further states that the next day Nelson laughingly told him that the New Haven lockup was ‘a gravy train’.
- 1949, William Van O'Connor, American Quarterly, page 38:
- Of course these foreigners want to come to America. […] To them America is the land of the free ride; and they want to climb aboard the gravy train, even though that means abandoning their friends and neighbors, the ashes of their fathers and the temples of their gods, to a struggle to which they themselves are no longer equal.
- 1970 December, Alex Poinsett, “Is There a Plot to Kill Mayor Hatcher?”, in Ebony, volume 26, number 2, Johnson Publishing, →ISSN, page 146:
- Hatcher derailed the gravy train by consolidating City Hall operations into five general departments headed by three special assistants and two members of the Board of Works.
- 2005, Kevin Craig, Hey Stranger! Letters from an All-American Loudmouth, →ISBN:
- Freeloaders are a prime example of the people that will repeatedly burn you if they have the chance. […] They would much rather find someone with a generous nature, and ride that gravy train till the gravy runs out.
- 2006, Freddie L. Sirmans, Can the US Survive Doomsday, →ISBN, page 19:
- This whole gay marriage clamor is really about spousal and other benefits that this welfare state provider has made so enticing. It's only natural that everybody wants to get on a gravy train or ride a free horse.
- 2007, Jon Garate, A Party of One: A Political Parody, →ISBN, page 25:
- Free medical and schooling for illegals; Citizenship for babies of illegals; Free schooling; Free language education. On and on goes the gravy train. Who wouldn't bust into this country for the easy life.
- 2012, Andrew Holmes, The Painspotter's Guide to Broken Britain, →ISBN:
- […] This isn't so much the gravy train, but the express gravy train, and just like Eurostar, it runs a lot faster in Europe than in the UK.