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“In the Tank” Redux

October 2nd, 2008 · 2 Comments

Since this old post still seems to get a fair amount of inbound linkage, I figured I’d help to clarify the origin of the common expression “in the tank”—as in “the media sure are in the tank for Obama/McCain this year!”

The original “tank” here is a water tank, which also used to be a slangy term for a swimming pool. From there we go to old sporting slang, where a boxer who “takes a dive” in a fixed fight might be described as “going in the tank” or “tanking”—deliberately hitting the mat as though he were diving into a swimming pool. And from there, the transition to the current usage should be pretty obvious: The media are supposed to be neutral and skeptical, but the claim that they’re “in the tank” is to suggest that they’re participating in a rigged contest.

And there you have it.

Tags: Horse Race Politics · Journalism & the Media · Language and Literature



2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Multimedia Dead Metaphors // Dec 24, 2008 at 5:40 am

    […] were supposed to call up. As some of you may recall, it actually took me a little bit of research earlier this year to figure out where the commonly-used expression came for. We hear it all the time, and we’ve […]

  • 2 Erstwhile // Dec 29, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    This is pretty interesting because it inadvertantly shows how Occam’s Razor can go too far.

    In other words, in searching for the simplest explanation borne out by the facts, we can sometimes come upon one which is simpler than the true explanation–even though it leads to the right conclusion.

    Let me make this more concrete by illustrating using my own stupidity, which is conveniently at hand.

    For me, the term “in the tank” had conveyed a totally different image (although I knew the meaning.) My preferred image was one of those “dunk tanks” you sometimes see in carnivals but more often in sitcoms. [For the uninitiated: a volunteer–often an authority figure–sits on a sort of trap door above a tank of water. Participants, who typically pay a fee for the privilege, are given three balls and the chance to hit a target which, if successfully struck, will cause the seated volunteer to fall in the water. Hilarity ensues.]

    So my thought had been that if you had just been dropped into a dunk tank, your eyes, ears, and mouth are completely closed, lest you drown. By analogy, if you are “in the tank” for a certain candidate, you are blind/deaf/closed to their flaws, errors, and/or the criticisms coming from their opponents.

    I like the real explanation better.

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