Every language has its idioms, phrases with a known meaning that can’t be taken at face value. Idioms are often used to communicate an idea quickly and cleverly.
But idioms can be confusing if you don’t know the exact words to use. Do you “nip something in the butt” or “in the bud”? Are you “at someone’s beck and call” or their “beckon call”? Without further ado (not further adieu), let’s talk about one of these commonly confused idiom pairs: coming down the pike versus coming down the pipe.
Coming down the pike means that something unknown is going to happen in the future, while coming down the pipe means that something already in development is heading your way.
What does coming down the pike mean?
Coming down the pike means that something is going to happen at a future time. It often indicates that a change is coming.
The pike in down the pike is shorthand for turnpike, a toll road that links major cities. The meaning refers to the journey one takes along a turnpike, heading toward the unknowns of a new place—or perhaps that something new is heading toward you.
One of the reasons down the pike is used interchangeably with down the pipe is simply a lack of familiarity with the word turnpike. Another reason is that the phrase has been conflated with in the pipeline, which refers to something that is in the process of development. Finally, pike and pipe sound similar, and it can be hard to pick up the difference unless you’re listening carefully or are already familiar with the phrase.
Down the pike vs. down the pipe
Coming down the pike and coming down the pipe are both used to indicate something is going to happen. The difference between whether something is coming down the pike or pipe is how much we know about what’s to come.
If rumors of layoffs are circulating around the office, then you might receive a notice that structural changes to the company are coming down the pike. In this case, you don’t know who or what those changes will affect, but you know that change is coming (and that you might want to freshen up your résumé).
On the other hand, if you requested funding to throw an office party and the manager just approved it, you might receive an email saying that the money is coming down the pipe.
Even though the phrase coming down the pike was originally “correct,” these days both are used so commonly that their only real difference is the amount of certainty within the context.
Coming down the pike synonyms
Around the corner
Coming to pass
Down the pike vs. down the pipe examples
With the broad switch to remote work, many office workers believe that permanent changes to the workplace are coming down the pike.
In early 2021, many employees received notice that changes were coming down the pipe—allowing them to choose between in-person, hybrid, and fully remote work.
Social media platforms are changing the way that younger generations receive their news; many analysts believe changes coming down the pike may wipe out print newspapers altogether.
In response to the rapidly evolving media landscape, a wave of transformative changes is coming down the pipe as major outlets transition to fully digital platforms.
Down the pike vs. down the pipe FAQs
What does coming down the pike mean?
The phrase coming down the pike is an idiom that means something—often something with unknown qualities—is going to happen in the future.
Is down the pike or down the pipe correct?
The original phrase is down the pike, but the phrase down the pipe is used so often these days that either is acceptable. The meanings of the two phrases are slightly different, however, so the context for when to use each one matters.
What’s the difference between coming down the pike and coming down the pipe?
The difference between something coming down the pike versus coming down the pipe is the certainty about what is about to happen. Something that is coming down the pike includes some uncertainty, while something coming down the pipe is already in development and has known qualities.