Petered Out

Here is the definition of Peter from the Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913):

Peter Pet”er, v. i. [imp. & p. p. Petered; p. pr. & vb. n.
   Petering.] [Etymol. uncertain.]
   To become exhausted; to run out; to fail; — used generally
   with out; as, that mine has petered out. [Slang, U.S.]

After getting up at 4:00 a.m. on Tuesday, at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, and at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, I am, true to form, feeling “exhausted, run out and failing.”

Luckily, if I keep this up, I will wrap around and be up at 4:00 a.m. in about 2 weeks.

As a side point, I am also feeling as though my etymology is uncertain.


Chris Corrigan's picture
Chris Corrigan on June 6, 2003 - 18:01 Permalink

Funny that the English etymology of Peter should be related to tiredness and failing and the French to a rock eh?

At what point did your ancestral legacy change hands in La Manche?

Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on June 6, 2003 - 18:14 Permalink

Peter also is a name of an important part of the male anatomy in old English

Alan's picture
Alan on June 6, 2003 - 18:20 Permalink

I was going to say that there are many meanings to Peter. Perhaps in 1913 obsurity was the better part of politeness.

Ken's picture
Ken on June 6, 2003 - 22:22 Permalink

How about Petard, a bell shaped bomb, from the French peter, to break wind.

Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on June 9, 2003 - 12:10 Permalink

Hoist by his own petard” is to be blown up by your own gun (Will Shakepeare I think)or sunk by your own doing

Tom's picture
Tom on August 18, 2003 - 19:20 Permalink

I assume that the phrase “petered out” refers to the Apostle Peter telling Jesus he would be by His side but later disappearing, just as Jesus predicted.

Ken Baker's picture
Ken Baker on March 6, 2004 - 22:01 Permalink

I’m fairly sure that the phrase “peter out” comes from a leaching process once associated with saltpeter mining. To extract the saltpeter from the “peterdirt,” the miners would put it through successive leachings of clear water. For good dirt, somewhere about the sixth leaching, the saltpeter in the dirt would be pretty well all leached out (exhausted). At that point, the miners said that the dirt had “petered out.” In time the phrase spread into more general use to refer to anything or anyone who was all worn out (exhausted).

The word “saltpeter,” by the way, means “salt-rock” because of the salty taste of saltpeter. The “peter” part comes from a Greek root meaning “rock,” the same root that gives us “petrify,” “petrology,” and “Peter” (as in the Apostle). Peter’s name leant itself to the famous pun in which Jesus says that Peter is the “rock” upon which he will found his church.