switch

[swich]

noun

verb (used with object)

verb (used without object)


Idioms

    asleep at the switch, Informal. failing to perform one's duty, missing an opportunity, etc., because of negligence or inattention: He lost the contract because he was asleep at the switch.

Origin of switch

1585–95; earlier swits, switz slender riding whip, flexible stick; compare Low German (Hanoverian) schwutsche long, thin stick
Related formsswitch·a·ble, adjectiveswitch·er, nounswitch·like, adjectiveun·switch·a·ble, adjectiveun·switched, adjective

Synonyms for switch

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019


British Dictionary definitions for asleep at the switch

switch

noun

a mechanical, electrical, electronic, or optical device for opening or closing a circuit or for diverting energy from one part of a circuit to another
a swift and usually sudden shift or change
an exchange or swap
a flexible rod or twig, used esp for punishment
the sharp movement or blow of such an instrument
a tress of false hair used to give added length or bulk to a woman's own hairstyle
the tassel-like tip of the tail of cattle and certain other animals
any of various card games in which the suit is changed during play
US and Canadian a railway siding
US and Canadian a railway point
Australian informal See switchboard

verb

to shift, change, turn aside, or change the direction of (something)
to exchange (places); replace (something by something else)the battalions switched fronts
mainly US and Canadian to transfer (rolling stock) from one railway track to another
(tr) to cause (an electric current) to start or stop flowing or to change its path by operating a switch
to swing or cause to swing, esp back and forth
(tr) to lash or whip with or as if with a switch
Derived Formsswitcher, nounswitchlike, adjective

Word Origin for switch

C16: perhaps from Middle Dutch swijch branch, twig
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for asleep at the switch

switch

n.

1590s, "slender riding whip," probably from a Flemish or Low German word akin to Hanoverian swutsche, a variant of Low German zwukse "long thin stick, switch," from Germanic base *swih- (cf. Old High German zwec "wooden peg," German Zweck "aim, design," originally "peg as a target," Zwick "wooden peg"), perhaps connected with PIE root *swei- "to swing, bend, to turn."

The meaning "device for changing the direction of something or making or breaking a connection" is first recorded 1797. "The peg sense suits the mech(anical) applications" [Weekley], and these senses may be a direct borrowing from those senses in Continental Germanic languages rather than a continuation of the "pliant wand" sense. The meaning "a change, a reversal, an exchange, a substitution" is first recorded 1920.

switch

v.

1610s, "to strike with a switch," from switch (n.). Related: Switched; switching. The meaning "turn off or on" is first recorded 1853 of trains on tracks, 1881 of electricity, 1932 of radio or (later) television. Sense of "shift, divert" is from 1860. Meaning "to change one thing for another" is recorded from 1919. Switch-hitter is 1930s in baseball slang, 1956 in the sense of "bisexual person."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with asleep at the switch

asleep at the switch

Also, asleep at the wheel. Inattentive, not doing one's job, as in At the critical moment the watchman was asleep at the switch and only called the fire department when it was too late. This term came from 19th-century American railroading, when it was the trainman's duty to switch cars from one track to another by means of manually operated levers. Should he fail to do so, trains could collide. It was later transferred to any lack of alertness. The wheel in the variant is a steering wheel; similarly disastrous results are implied.

switch

In addition to the idioms beginning with switch

  • switch off
  • switch on

also see:

  • asleep at the switch
  • bait and switch
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.