Jump on The Bandwagon

Jump on The Bandwagon : Phrases


To join a growing movement in support of someone or something, often in an opportunist way, when that movement is seen to be about to become successful.



The word bandwagon was coined in the USA in the mid 19th century, simply as the name for the wagon that carried a circus band. Phineas T. Barnum, the great showman and circus owner, used the term in 1855 in his unambiguously named autobiography The Life of P.T. Barnum, Written by Himself, 1855:

"At Vicksburg we sold all our land conveyances excepting four horses and the 'band wagon'."

Barnum didn't coin 'jump on the bandwagon'; that came later, but he did have a hand in some other additions to the language. He was nothing if not a publicist and, even though there is no definitive evidence of his inventing any new word or phrase, he certainly can be said to have made several of them popular. Firstly, there are a couple of celebrated quotations:

"There's a sucker born every minute." and
"You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can't fool all of the people all the time."

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations lists those as 'attributed to' Barnum. Abraham Lincoln is also often cited as the author of the second one. Two other coinages that we can thank Barnum for popularising are 'Jumbo' and 'Siamese twins'. Jumbo was a little-used slang term in Barnum's day and was recorded in John Badcock's Slang. A dictionary of the turf, 1823:

"Jumbo, a clumsy or unwieldly fellow."

It came into widespread use in 1882 as the the name of the giant elephant that Barnum exhibited in his shows. Those shows also featured the 'joined at the hip' Siamese twins, Chang and Eng Bunker.

Back to the bandwagon. Circuses were skilled at attracting the public with the razzmatazz of a parade through town, complete with highly decorated bandwagon. Politicians picked up on this and began using bandwagons when campaigning for office. The date of the transition from the literal 'jumping on a bandwagon', in order to show one's alliance to a politician, to the figurative use we know now isn't clear, but it was complete by the 1890s. Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt made a clear-cut reference to the practice in his Letters, 1899 (published 1951):

"When I once became sure of one majority they tumbled over each other to get aboard the band wagon."

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