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The gravy train

Posted by Smokey Stover on April 26, 2010 at 22:24

In Reply to: The gravy train posted by Bill on April 26, 2010 at 18:50:

: The phrase "the gravy train". What is it's source? - thanks

The first part of it is the important part. "Gravy" has meant for over a century, a big payback from little or no effort. One source suggests that it's what you get when you have a sinecure. The Oxford English Dictionary calls "gravy" in this sense, "Money easily acquired; an unearned or unexpected bonus; a tip", and gives numerous examples from 1910, with and without the "train". The expression, according to the OED and everyone else who has said anything about it, was originally American slang.

Michael Quinion, in his "World of Words", carries the origin back atleast to 1895, when it appeared in print. Doubtless the expression is much older. And this meaning of "gravy" remains current, with or without the train.

I believe that the train may have come into the expression because getting this gravy is getting a free ride. And the ride sometimes just goes on and on, like a train. Somebody else does the steering and stoking the engine. As Quinion says, there's no evidence that the expression has anything to do with real trains.