The Grammarphobia Blog

Slip sliding away

Q: I would like to know if the term “sliding pond,” meaning a playground slide, is specific to the NYC area. Could it be a corruption of “slide upon”?

A: My husband, born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, remembers the playground slide as a “sliding pond,” as do many New Yorkers and New Jerseyites. Others recall it as a “sliding pon.”

The expression was a new one on me (I’m from the Midwest) until a few years ago when a reader from New Jersey asked me about it.

In looking for an answer, I came across an item on the Mavens’ Word of the Day website that says “the expression ‘sliding pon(d)’ is almost exclusively connected to the New York City area.”

The origin of the expression is obscure, according to the Random House site, but one possibility is indeed your suggestion that it’s derived from “slide upon.”

However, the writer points out two problems with this theory: (1) “upon” is a more formal word than children would normally use, and (2) “slide upon” is not known to have ever been used for a children’s slide.

“A somewhat more likely possibility is that it comes from a Dutch source,” the website tells us. “A Dutch dictionary in 1599 gives the term glijd-baene, literally ‘glide-road,’ for a children’s slide (on ice, in this case).”

The term “sliding pond,” the writer adds, “could thus represent a partial translation of the Dutch term, with the glijd translated as ‘sliding’ and the baene taken as ‘pond.’ ”

Although the website mentions two similar German terms, it says glijd-baene is a more likely source because of the Dutch influence on New York speech.

It also notes that the term “sliding pond” hasn’t shown up in other cities influenced by large concentrations of German immigrants.

All this talk about gliding and sliding, reminds of these lines from Simon and Garfunkel: “We’re workin’ our jobs, collect our pay / Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip sliding away.”

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