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Wildcat strike

Posted by ESC on May 23, 2003

In Reply to: Wildcat strike posted by James Briggs on May 23, 2003

: : How did the phrase wildcat strike originate? Thank you, Saxon

: 'Strike' originated as follows. As a guess,'Wildcat' has been added as a suitable adjective to indicate that the strike is not 'official'.

: This is another with a nautical background. The Strike in this instance is the one used to strike (lower) the sails on a sailing ship. A crew which was in dispute with an owner simply refused to strike the sails and the ship could not move. The word in this sense was first recorded in 1768.

Mr. Henderson agrees with your origin for "strike." I have another origin for the "wildcat" part.

WILDCAT STRIKE - The origins of "wildcat strike" go back to a bankrupt bank in the 1830s that had a panther or wildcat on its banknotes. Since 1838, wildcat meant "a hastily formed and financially precarious, or speculative, bank." "Wildcat strike" dates to 1943, "an unauthorized strike having been called an 'outlaw strike' since 1920," according to "Listening to America" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982).

Another source says, "wildcat - A wildcat venture, such as a wildcat oil well, is generally a speculative one. The word 'wildcat' here comes from the term 'wildcat bank,' which originally referred to a Michigan bank that went bankrupt in the 1830s and had on its banknotes a prominent picture of a panther or wildcat." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

A wildcat travels alone and you can hear it crying off in the distance. That probably helped reinforce the image.