on the wagon
Originally on the water wagon or on the water cart, referring to carts used to hose down dusty roads: see the 1901 quotation below. The suggestion is that a person who is “on the wagon” is drinking water rather than alcoholic beverages. The term may have been used by the early 20th-century temperance movement in the United States; for instance, William Hamilton Anderson (1874 – c. 1959), the superintendent of the New York Anti-Saloon League, is said to have made the following remark about Prohibition: “Be a good sport about it. No more falling off the water wagon. Uncle Sam will help you keep your pledge.”
- (idiomatic) Abstaining from drinking any alcoholic drink, usually in the sense of having given it up (as opposed to never having partaken); teetotal.
- [1901, Alice Caldwell Hegan, “How Spring Came to the Cabbage Patch”, in Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (Project Gutenberg; EBook #4377), New York, N.Y.: Published by the Century Co., De Vinne Press, published 26 July 2009 (Project Gutenberg version), OCLC 301653, archived from the original on 24 October 2015, page 124:
- I wanted to git him some whisky, but he shuck his head. 'I'm on the water-cart,' sez he.]
- 1915, Billy Sunday, Get on the Water Wagon, Journal Publishing Company:
- "Where did you get all that money?" / "Went to hear Bill and climbed on the water wagon."
- 1917 (first published 1918 March), Edgar Rice Burroughs, “The Oakdale Affair”, in Blue Book Magazine (Project Gutenberg; EBook #363), Chicago, Ill.: Story-Press Corp., published 25 January 2013 (Project Gutenberg version), OCLC 270523625, archived from the original on 30 March 2016; republished in The Oakdale Affair; The Rider, Tarzana, Calif.: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., 1937, OCLC 8951886:
- "Sit down, bo," invited Soup Face. "I guess you're a regular all right. Here, have a snifter?" and he pulled a flask from his side pocket, holding it toward The Oskaloosa Kid. / "Thank you, but;—er—I'm on the wagon, you know," declined the youth.
- 2009, Allen Carr, “Those Lucky Normal Drinkers”, in Easy Way to Control Alcohol, London: Arcturus Publishing, →ISBN, page 200:
- In fact regularly going on the wagon is a sure indication of a serious drink problem. If they genuinely enjoy a drink, why would they even want to go a month without one? Obviously because their drinking was causing them a problem.
- 2022 July 18, Amelia Tait, “‘Alcohol is a hand grenade’: how reality TV went from boozy Big Brother to nosecco Love Island”, in The Guardian:
- The Big Brother house guests drank liquor by the crateful. But Love Island’s tortuous trysts are fuelled by fruit juice and nosecco. Why did reality TV go on the wagon?
- (by extension) Maintaining a program of self-improvement or abstinence from some other undesirable habit.
- He’s been on the smoking cessation wagon for two weeks now.
- 2003, Patt Denning; Jeannie Little; Adina Glickman, “Addiction: Is It All or Nothing?”, in Over the Influence: The Harm Reduction Guide for Managing Drugs and Alcohol, New York, N.Y.: Guilford Press, →ISBN, page 15:
- This book is about harm reduction. It is not about "getting clean." […] It is not about an all-or-nothing attitude: drink or be on the wagon, use or quit. It is about reducing the harm done by alcohol and other drugs in your life. Less harm is the solution.
- 2015, Richard Foreman, “Managing Your Cravings”, in How to Quit Smoking in Simple Steps!: The Best Easy Ways to Stop Smoking, [s.l.]: Richard Foreman:
- Just because you've had a smoke doesn't mean that you need to become depressed and give up on quitting. This is a learning process and you need to take every day as it comes. Simply get back on the wagon and continue on with your nonsmoking goals. You can do this!
- Used other than figuratively or idiomatically: see on, the, wagon.
- ^ Michael Quinion (created 18 July 1998, last updated 27 January 2006), “On the wagon”, in World Wide Words.
- ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2023), “wagon”, in Online Etymology Dictionary, retrieved 2019-10-08: “Phrase on the wagon "abstaining from alcohol" is attested by 1904, originally on the water cart.”
- ^ Robert Hendrickson (1997) The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, rev. and exp. edition, New York, N.Y.: Facts On File, →ISBN.