Posted by R. Berg on September 11, 2001
In Reply to: A drug on the market posted by ESC on September 11, 2001
: : looking for the origin of this phrase. since drugs seem to be highly marketable this phrase seems odd.
: A drug on the market is one that is available for purchase. If a company takes a drug off the market, it is not available for sale.
But the set phrase "a drug on the market" means something that nobody wants. I checked the Oxford English Dictionary. They don't really know the origin either. Definition #1 of "drug" as a noun is "a medicinal substance," etc. Here is Definition #2:
A commodity which is no longer in demand, and so has lost its value
or become unsaleable. (Now usually "a drug in the market.")
(It is questionable if this is the same word. Quot. 1760 implies it; but it may possibly be only a witty play on the word: see also Fuller's contrast of "drugs" and "dainties.")
about 1661 FULLER [He] made such a vent for Welsh Cottons, that what he found Drugs at home, he left Dainties beyond Sea.
1671 NARBOROUGH We might send our English Cloth, which now is grown a Drug.
1673 TEMPLE Horses in Ireland are a Drug, but might be improved to a Commodity.
1760 MURPHY A wife's a drug now; mere tar-water, with every virtue under heaven, but nobody takes it.
"Drug" in this sense reminds me of "drag" in the sense of something that pulls you down, hinders your progress, but the OED doesn't suggest that connection.