phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

The heat is on

Posted by R. Berg on June 01, 2001

In Reply to: The heat is on posted by ESC on June 01, 2001

: : I couldn't find the form we were supposed to fill
: : out--it wasn't at the bottom of my screen when I
: : rolled down, as the page said it would be--so am
: : doing this in a follow-up post. Hope this works. . .
: : I'm a writer, and am looking for the origin (year)
: : of the prhase "The heat is on." I have my gangster
: : character saying "Is the heat on?" to another
: : character, but am not sure if they would have said
: : this during the time of WWI--specifically 1917.
: : Thanks in advance for any help you can give me.
: : If possible,I'd also appreciate the reference.
: : (Book, article, etc.)

: : Thanks and God bless--
: : Pamela

: I'm away from my library. But according to a book in my little mini-library:

: TO TURN THE HEAT ON -- "This seems originally to have been underworld slang, probably a rough interpretation of 'to be grilled' in the figurative sense. It means, to be subjected to a severe cross-examination, as by police officers in grilling a suspected criminal; but of course in ordinary use a youngster will say that his dad turned the heat on when asking how the fender of the car got dented. The expression is quite recent." From "A Hog on Ice & other Curious Expressions" by Charles Earle Funk (Harper & Row, New York, 1948).

: Notice that Mr. Funk says the expression is "recent," but the book was published in 1948. If I find an earlier origin date, I'll post it.

The Dictionary of American Slang has "c. 1925" as the date for underworld use of "heat" in that sense. 1917 might be too early. In fact, considering that the Volstead Act was passed in 1919, 1917 is early for gangsters. What would they have done all day?