"Hosed" etymology - When did this phrase come into use?
May 17, 2013 9:26 AM   Subscribe

At what point did the phrase "I'm/you're/we're hosed" come into play in the US vernacular? Earliest record? From pop culture somewhere? Are there regions of the US that did not ever use this turn of phrase?
posted by juniperesque to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
US? I thought it was a particularly Canadian expression. Not sure if that helps with your research, though.
posted by Grither at 9:32 AM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

A few references provided by Google:

frequency of use of 'hosed' tripling between 1930 and 1940.

Straight Dope discussion

"To hose," military slang since World War I, means to saturate a target with sustained machine gun or other high-powered fire, washing over it with bullets or shells as if with a powerful fire hose.

I thought it had a military ring to it. Quick answer, it's old. But there was definitely a spike in US usage that came along in the 80s with the McKenzie Brothers's very popular movie Strange Brew. I know I never heard it before that.
posted by Miko at 9:38 AM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

The answers to this stackexchange question imply that US usage came from The McKenzie brothers in the early 80s.

It was certainly common usage to me (Massachusetts) by 1990.
posted by dfan at 9:40 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding dfan. I'm young and grew up in Massachusetts. "Hosed" isn't marked as anything but colloquial speech.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:43 AM on May 17, 2013

The McKenzie Bothers used hoser (and hose-head), not hosed. It was a generic insult. Completely different thing.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:53 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I certainly think that's the reason for a revival of popularity in the US. But I've looked into it further via Google books date-limited search, and it really does originate in the military, particularly air-gunners. This is upsetting but this book details how one usage of this slang developed in WWII - for being hit so bad by anti-aircraft fire that they had to hose you out of the turret.

The 1922 Encyclopedia Britannica talks about a battleship being "hosed with a stream of fire."
posted by Miko at 9:56 AM on May 17, 2013

The McKenzie Bothers used hoser (and hose-head), not hosed. It was a generic insult. Completely different thing.

True at least for Strange Brew, just searched the script and "hosed" never appears.

My dad, who's an electronics engineer, uses this word all the time to describe things so badly busted they're destroyed (and definitely did not pick it up from Strange Brew). He's the son of a WWII vet and is a Vietnam Vet. My money's on military slang as the central route of this expression.
posted by Miko at 9:59 AM on May 17, 2013

I went to MIT. It was really, really common slang at MIT, and we students thought it was related to the saying that attending MIT is like "drinking from a firehose". Being "hosed" was the result of drinking from that firehose - i.e., exhausted, overworked, out of time.

I had never heard the expression before attending MIT. I certainly got the impression that MIT "invented", or at least thought it invented, the saying. Maybe that's not true, or maybe it's used slightly differently there.
posted by Cygnet at 10:01 AM on May 17, 2013

Kinky Friedman frequently used "hosing" for "dating/fucking" in his mystery novels in the '80s and '90s, as in, "I was hosing this one girl downtown at the time...". I have no idea whether this was a New York-ism, a Texas-ism or something Friedman came up with on his own.
posted by Etrigan at 10:11 AM on May 17, 2013

That MIT usage is unfamiliar to me - to me, "hosed" means screwed (in the sense of doomed, not in the Kinky Friedman sense), which seems more like the military usage Miko is talking about.
posted by mskyle at 10:13 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

As others here have mentioned, "hosed" meaning "busy" or "overwhelmed" is a piece of idiosyncratic MIT slang which may have that same meaning out in the larger Boston community as well. The etymology is traced to MIT president Jerome Wiesner's (possibly unoriginal) observation that "getting an education from MIT is like getting a drink from a fire hose".

The meaning of "hosed" as "screwed" or "out of luck" which is more common in American slang at large is quite likely unrelated.
posted by jackbishop at 10:14 AM on May 17, 2013

And all this time I had thought the McKenzie brothers had developed a Hoser Ray!
posted by srboisvert at 10:23 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I always assumed it was something to do with early colonic irrigation.
posted by Solomon at 10:24 AM on May 17, 2013

The etymology is traced to MIT president Jerome Wiesner's (possibly unoriginal) observation that "getting an education from MIT is like getting a drink from a fire hose".

I certainly got the impression that MIT "invented", or at least thought it invented, the saying. Maybe that's not true, or maybe it's used slightly differently there.

I think it might be interesting to research, because pat stories like that can sometimes turn out to be false etymologies. The official glossary hedges it. Something that feels likelier to me, given the abundance of evidence for military origin, is that the faculty of MIT contained lots of people who got their mechanics/engineering training in the military during WWI and after and brought this usage of "hosed" = "messed up" with them. But perhaps there's a totally separate sense at which it just means "busy."

The first citation I can find for either "taking a drink from a fire hose" or "drinking from a firehose is here, in 1963, in reference to Princeton.

Next result is this 1972 book on the study of physics, which just says "Taking physics is like taking a drink from a firehose." This is not specific to any school.

It shows up at Princeton again in 1975.

It is suddenly everywhere by the 90s applied to all different kinds of things.

As far as MIT, it's squishy. It first gets attributed to "undergraduates" (not just Princeton or MIT) in a general study of higher learning. Then in 1983 it's credited to a "freshman orientation speaker". Between 1990-2010 it becomes embedded as MIT folklore, though I can find no attribution of the president actually saying it himself. If he did, since the metaphore was at least 30-40 years old by then, he was repeating it.

Finally, I just don't think this is what gives rise to "hosed." I think it might just be a confluence of two ideas that happen to both use the word "hose" in very loosely related ways.
posted by Miko at 11:48 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's the relevant material from Green's Dictionary of Slang, the OED of slang:
1 to fire at, orig. with a machine gun.

1917 A.S.G. Lee No Parachute (1968) 138: The tracer was hosing him fine. 1935 A.J. Pollock Und. Speaks n.p.: Turn the hose on, to shoot with a pistol. 1967 E. Shepard Doom Pussy 43: Those red-hot tracer slugs are hosing your ass off. 1992 J. Mowry Way Past Cool 255: Wait till we gots that Uzi in our hands. Then we hose both them suckers down. 1993 Lerner et al. Dict. of Today's Words.

2 (US orig. police/Und.) to beat with a rubber hose, to punish.

[1940 E. O'Neill Iceman Cometh Act IV: If he pulls any rubber-hose tricks, you let me know!] 1929 Hostetter & Beesley It's a Racket! 228: hose—To hose; to beat a suspect, or a captured criminal, with a piece of rubber hose in order to compel a confession or the disclosure of evidence. Hose is used because it inflicts severe punishment without leaving marks on the body. 1931 G. Milburn ‘Convicts’ Jargon' in AS VI:6 439: hosin', n. A ‘work-out’ with a hose. 1942 Berrey & Van den Bark Amer. Thes. Sl. [1959 W. Brown Teen-Age Mafia 7: You gotta prove you can stand up to the cops […] even if they use the hose on you.]

3 (US) to cheat, to victimize.

1946 F. Eikel Jr ‘An Aggie Vocab. of Sl.’ AS XXI:1 34/1: hose, vit. To cheat or try very hard to beat or win. 1950 Goldin et al. DAUL 102/1: Hose, v. […] 3. To cheat; to swindle. 1966 R. Oliver ‘More Carnie Talk’ in AS XLI:4 281: hosed, p. ppl. Cheated. 1977 Eble Campus Sl. Apr. 2: hose – to take advantage of, fool, cheat. 1986 Eble Campus Sl. Oct. 3: hose – do a wrong to someone. 1997–2000 College Sl. Research Project (Cal. State Poly. Uni., Pomona) [Internet] Hose (verb) 1. To disrespect someone. […] 2. To screw over or mistreat.

4 (US campus) to defeat.

1982 W. Safire What's the Good Word? 304: I got hosed on the midterm. 2003 Eble Campus Sl. Nov. 4: hose – destroy, defeat: This guy just hosed me. Often said in game-playing competition.

5 (S.Afr.) to urinate in one's underwear.

1986 P. Slabolepszy ‘Boo to the Moon’ in Mooi Street (1994) 104: myrtle: Who would've been laughing if one of us had won the trip to Mauritius? spider: I would, sweetheart. In fact I'd of hosed myself. The thought of any a' you two bats trying to windsurf […] would be enough to break me up for a week. 2003 McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl.

6 to lie.

1997–2001 Online Sl. Dict. [Internet] hose v 1. to lie to. (‘I wouldn't hose you about a thing like that!’ ‘Don't hose me!’).
(Well, definition 5 isn't strictly relevant, but how could I leave it out?)
posted by languagehat at 11:55 AM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I said:
It was certainly common usage to me (Massachusetts) by 1990.
Given the later comments I should note that I was at MIT in 1990.
posted by dfan at 3:29 PM on May 17, 2013

My earliest memory was from a friend who worked in a Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Silo in the 1980's who said their standing orders were paraphrased slang:

When in doubt
Hose 'em out.

(hose == attack with nuclear warheaded missiles)
posted by bukvich at 5:08 PM on May 17, 2013

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