fix your wagon

Discuss word origins and meanings.
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fix your wagon

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue May 02, 2006 5:39 pm

I was at a birthday party last week when I heard someone jokingly say I’LL FIX HIS WAGON. It’s not an expression I hear around much anymore and examples of it in newspapers and magazines in recent years are sparse.

FIX SOMEONE’S WAGON: To deal with someone who has wronged you, to exact retribution for an offense, punish, get revenge or get even with or settle a score with someone by spoiling something important to them or by putting them in a awkward position, ruin someone’s chances of success, bring about someone’s downfall. <“They decided to fix his wagon and pulled the plug on his expense account.”>, <“After what he did to her she’s out to fix his wagon.”>

FIX here is used in the ironic sense of dealing with or settling a score by doing ‘damage’ rather than repair. It was first recorded in this sense in 1833 in the expression FIX SOMEONE’S FLINT (see quote below), which was the probable predecessor of FIX SOMEONE’S WAGON. The shift from ‘flint’ to ‘wagon,’ according to The Oxford Dictionary of Slang and others, first appeared in 1951 (see Truman Capote quote below), but according to Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang it was in the 1930s. Other 19th century expressions with similar meaning and which are still in use include SETTLE SOMEONE’S COFFEE, SETTLE/FIX/COOK SOMEONE’S HASH/GRUEL.

The earliest example I could find for FIX SOMEONE’S WAGON was in a 1936 'Little Orphan Annie' cartoon - the OED's was from 1951 (see quotes below). It has been suggested that the expression stems from the days of the covered wagon when a vindictive adversary might sabotage one’s wagon by, for example, putting sand on the axle so that the vehicle would later break down. If this is true, it is passing strange that the expression didn’t show up in print until the 1930s, and I guess I don’t buy the ‘covered’ part, although I could believe the expression referred to a latter-day wagon. The earliest appearance I could find for the updated version FIX HIS LITTLE RED WAGON, which is perhaps a bit more pernicious with the inference of a child’s plaything, was from 1951 (see quote below).
<1833 "We'll FIX HIS FLINT for him before the cock's dinner is ready."—"Old Sailor's Yarns" by Ames, page 298>

<1836 "If it had been me he used that way, I'd FIX HIS FLINT for him, so that he'd think twice afore he'd fire such another shot as that are again."—'Clockmaker (1st series - 1838) by Haliburton, page 59>

<1840 “Their manners are rude . . . They want their FLINTS FIXED FOR ‘EM.”—‘The Clockmaker’ by Haliburton, Series III, xii>

<1860 “TO FIX ONE’S FLINT for him, i.e., to SETTLE HIS HASH.”—‘A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words’ (edition 2) by Hotten, page 140>

<1875 “McDonald . . . said, ‘I’LL FIX YOU, Fiddler Neary.’ He drew a weapon.”—‘Chicago Tribune,’ 25 September, page 7/1>

<1936 (in ‘Little Orphan Annie’ cartoon) “Hm-M-- Why not? Once I get the old fool talked into a business deal I’ll FIX HIS WAGON.”—‘Chicago Daily Tribune,’ 3 June, page 20>

<1940 “As Mr. Ickes so often does, he overspoke himself, however, and it seems likely that the citizens will FIX HIS WAGON.”—‘Los Angeles Times,’ 25 December, page A>

<1944 “‘Every day you fire me. Some afternoon, though, I’m going to doublecross you and not show up at the ball park. That will FIX YOUR WAGON, Dykes. And it will serve you right too.’”—‘New York Times,’ 16 May, page 24>

<1947 “‘I’ll report that unkind remark to our scouting department,’ answered Neale. ‘And they’ll FIX YOUR WAGON.’”—‘New York Times,’ 11 November, page 41>

<1950 “Many a time in the past the writers had pleaded with the quaint Ol’ Perfesser [[baseball manager Casey Stengel]] to make a speech at their annual dinner. On every occasion he begged off. So they decided that they’d FIX HIS WAGON. They’d give the old gaffer a plaque and he’d have to make a speech.”—‘New York Times,’ 5 February, page 140>

<1951 “She said her brother would FIX MY WAGON, which he did . . . I’ve got a scar where he hit me.”—‘The Grass Harp’ by Truman Capote>

<1951 “I guess that will FIX YOUR LITTLE RED WAGON he said triumphantly . . .”—‘Journal of Educational Sociology,’ Vol. 24, No. 6, February, page 309>

<1954 “‘Aha,’ said Paul Brown, a very smart cookie, ‘I’ll FIX HIS WAGON.’”—‘New York Times,’ 31 October, page S2>

<1963 “A witch FIXES HIS WAGON when he wings her with a slingshot. She turns him into a small scaly dragon and Bertie has a hard time before he gets back into proper shape.”—‘New York Times,’ 12 May, page BR23>

<1968 “‘Who does that crazy bastard think he is? I’ll FIX HIS WAGON’”—‘New York Times,’ 15 August, page 34>

<1979 “I will get my brother in front of the mighty TV cameras, and I will FIX HIS LITTLE RED WAGON.”—‘Los Angeles Times,’ 20 December, page E1>

<1983 “Both of us instructed Fuchs thoroughly. Now he acts as the discoverer of the new direction. I shall FIX HIS WAGON a little.”—‘Art Journal,’ Vol. 43, No. 1, Spring>

<1999 “‘If you move your car but don’t sit in it until 8, the parking officer going up and down the block issuing $50 tickets will FIX YOUR WAGON.”—‘New York Times,’ 6 November, page B2>
(American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Oxford Dictionary of Slang, Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Picturesque Expressions by Urdang)

Ken G – May 2, 2006

fix your wagon

Post by hsargent » Wed May 03, 2006 1:42 pm

Fix his little red wagon has an inference that the recepient to the jib is somewhat childish.

This lead somewhat to the novel brand name Radio Flyer wagon. This was given that name because in the 20's a Radio was a reference to the new and exciting.
Signature: Harry Sargent

fix your wagon

Post by kagriffy » Wed May 03, 2006 2:59 pm

So, if the company was releasing its little red wagon today, it would call it "Ipod Flyer"?
K. Allen Griffy
Springfield, Illinois (USA)

fix your wagon

Post by Shelley » Wed May 03, 2006 3:44 pm

hsargent wrote: This lead somewhat to the novel brand name Radio Flyer wagon. This was given that name because in the 20's a Radio was a reference to the new and exciting.
I just rented "Cimarron" -- an old movie (1930) based on Edna Ferber's novel. The production company was RADIO PICTURES or (something like that) and had a cartoon of a radio tower on the globe shooting out bolts of magic radio energy that spelled R - A - D - I - O . . . I took it for granted, but your note puts an amusing character on the name.

fix your wagon

Post by russcable » Wed May 03, 2006 4:05 pm

"An RKO Radio Picture" - RKO stands for Radio-Keith-Orpheum - a conglomeration of several theater chains with RCA (Radio Corporation of America).

Prior to 1930, the Radio Flyer company was the Liberty Coaster Manufacturing Co. - the Liberty Coaster was a wooden wagon. In 1930 the company changed it's name to Radio Steel Manufacturing Co. The Radio Flyer was their first steel wagon. See:

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