Over the hump

Posted by Steve E on November 02, 2005

In Reply to: Over the hump posted by Brian from Shawnee on November 02, 2005

: : : I am trying to find out what the phrase "over the hump" means. The sentence it appears in is "He knows he's gone over the hump here, and he's in trouble now; he's in real trouble." Any idea?

: : "Over the hump" in the U.S. means, the worst is over. Gone downhill means things are getting progressively worse.

: : From the archives:

: : HUMP DAY -- Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 2, H-O by J.E. Lighter, Random House, New York, 1994, has several slang uses of the word "hump" in print going back to the 1800s. "Over the hump," meaning beyond the midpoint or most difficult part was in print in 1914: "...Jackson & Hellyer, 'Vocab. 46: Hump...the half-way point in a prison sentence."

: : "Hump Day" -- ".the day that is at the midpoint in a given period of work; (often) Wednesday, the middle of the work week. Similarly, Hump Night. 1955 AS (American Speech) x 226: Hump Night.Wednesday night, which is over the hump of the week. (1977 Langone 'Life at Bottom,' 202: Some of the parties in midwinter, that's when you're over the hump. Hump Night, they called it, halfway home.') .ca 1965 in DARE (Dictionary of American Regional English): Hump day was used by counselors at summer camp to mean Wednesday."

: "Over the hump" was an expression used by U.S. airmen (and I assume British airmen as well) to describe missions flown from India to China and back, during World War II. The missions served to supply the Chinese army in the stuggle against the Japanese, and supplemented the Stillwell Road supply line thru Burma.

: There's another expression from U.S. railroad lingo: "to hump", meaning to push rail cars over a hump so they coast downhill into a railyard and are directed by switches onto one track or another. It is a common method of categorizing freight cars and putting trains together for a specific destination. There is a ceramics faactory near where I work, and the box cars that go in and out of their plant are all clearly marked "DO NOT HUMP". This is to prevent the finished ceramic products from smashing when the cars roll down the hill and crash into the other cars of the train!

Brian: My father worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad system for virtually his entire life. When I was a very young child (50 years or so ago), I remember him using phrases with the word 'hump' when he was talking with co-workers who lived in our neighborhood. I never understood what it meant. I grew older, it receded to the back of my mind and I never asked and he passed away in 1965. Oddly, the remembrance comes to the forefront of my mind every time I hear the word. Thanks very, very much for the explanation. I can now mark this "closed!"