under the pump

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Unclear. As an idiom, identified only in Australian English.

  • Originally a sailing term for when the ship is taking in water and the ship is literally being bailed out to stay afloat. In the days of yore the crew had to work 24 hours a day pumping out the ship until the ship reaches safe harbour for repairs.
  • Also possibly as a punishment.
  • Also suggested has been an origin in the construction industry:
    Workers can be quite literally under the pump if a concrete pour is occurring and the steel reinforcing and form-work is still being finished. The concrete pump would be reaching out above the workers, who would be completing their duties at a frantic pace. Once the concrete has been delivered, the ‘pour′ must occur ASAP or it may begin to set. Hence being under the pump describes the situation of working at feverish pace to meet a specific deadline.

Prepositional phrase[edit]

under the pump

  1. Used other than with a figurative or idiomatic meaning: see under,‎ pump.
    • 1839, “Captain Marryat”, A Diary in America, with Remarks on its Institutions, page 159,
      The laws of the state relative to the intermarriage of the whites with the coloured population, are also referred to. A case of this kind took place at New York when I was there; and as soon as the ceremony was over, the husband, I believe it was, but either the husband or the wife, was seized by the mob and put under the pump for half an hour.
    • 1863, “Mrs. Lovechild”, The Truant, in The Christmas Tree and Other Stories for the Young, page 48,
      Now the punishment for playing truant was to have the truant′s head put under the pump, and pumped upon.
    • 1867, New Zealand Parliament, Parliamentary Debates, Volume 1, Part 1: 9 July - 9 August 1867, page 106,
      The unfortunate individual was of course immediately taken, put under the pump, and soundly pumped upon. This was the sort of conduct adopted by the honorable member for the gold fields and his friends.
    • 1995, Graham Chainey, A Literary History of Cambridge, page 201,
      [] claim that when he was at Oxford ‘Socialists were put under the pump’.
  2. (Australia) Under pressure to perform.
    • 2003, Harry Gordon, The Time of Our Lives: Inside the Sydney Olympics, page 13,
      Nick was under the pump. He was underdone, and the selectors wanted to replace him with James Stewart.
    • c. 1970s, Doug Walters, quoted in 2008, Ashley Mallett, One of a Kind: The Doug Walters Story, 2010, ReadHowYouWant, page 219,
      I think all the Australian batsmen who came back from South Africa felt a bit under the pump. We simply had to perform or not stay in the side.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Commonly used in sports commentary.
  • Working to a high pressure deadline.
  • To work long hours to keep a company afloat while it's "taking in water".