peter out

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1846 US miners’ slang, from 1812 peter (to become exhausted).[1] Various speculative etymologies have been suggested, either from St. Peter (from the sense of “rock”), French péter (to fart), or saltpeter (ingredient in gunpowder, hence used in mining).[2][3][4][5]


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peter out (third-person singular simple present peters out, present participle petering out, simple past and past participle petered out)

  1. (idiomatic) To dwindle; to trail off; to diminish to nothing.
    What started as a great effort ended up petering out to nothing.
    • 2020 November 18, Paul Bigland, “New infrastructure and new rolling stock”, in Rail, page 49:
      Soon, the overhead wires will reach here. My only hope is that common sense prevails, and that the overhead line equipment continues its march north rather than petering out, leaving a monument to short-term thinking and a lack of vision.



  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2022), “peter”, in Online Etymology Dictionary, retrieved 26 February 2017.
  2. ^ Gary Martin (1997–), “Peter out”, in The Phrase Finder, retrieved 26 February 2017.
  3. ^ “ami: origin of “peter out””, in (please provide the title of the work)[1], accessed 18 January 2010, archived from the original on 6 June 2010
  4. ^ Take Our Word For It #117
  5. ^ A Hog On Ice & Other Curious Expressions, Charles Funk, 1948.