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18 comments on this post.
  1. PF:

    Wow! I thought it meant a speech so boring that you resorted to winding your watch to pass the time! What do you know.

  2. Tom Wolfe:

    I’m with PF — or pretty close, anyway. I thought it meant a speech went on soooo long that you had to wind your watch or it might run down before the speech was over.

    And all along I thouight I was so superior to the people I thought were using the word in the wrong way.

  3. Bob Dobolina:

    I’m not buying it. This sounds like folk etymology to me. I’m going with PF and Tom Wolfe on this one.

  4. jules older:

    Me too. And I wrote a kid’s book about (and called) TELLING TIME.

    OTOH… it makes no reference to stems, to winding or to speeches than never end.


  5. JN:

    3M’s newsletter is called the Stemwinder. I gotta think they researched it out before naming the publication.

  6. Cranky Old Batt:

    I also agree, from usage, that a stemwinder is an exceptional, not boring or overlong, speech. Heretofore, I thought it referred to the speaker, however.

  7. AJHIL:

    Bob, Tom, and Jules:
    With due deference to your epistemological instincts, I’ve been familiar with this term for many years and have never encountered it in any context other than that consistent with “rabble rousing”, “barn burner” and similar expressions. On the other hand the interpretation you suggest – so boring as to require a listener to wind his watch – seems terribly contrived and unimaginative, not the kind of thing that would engage the popular imagination enough to coin a new meaning. I’m going with Word Detective (as well as a number of other websites which cited the same origin.

  8. Peter McCrossin:

    I’ve never heard of this term before, and people here (Melbourne, Australia) reckon I know a word or two. I checked “stemwinder” out after reading about a Michelle Obama speech. Happy to go with the Word Detective on this one.

  9. Joe L.:

    Today, from Moscow, the NY Times’ Ellen Barry reported that, “Putin strode out in a parka and delivered a ferocious stemwinder.” And millions of people Googled “stemwinder.” Great word!

  10. CaptainKirk:

    I attend a lot of meetings, some more interesting than others and
    some speakers make their points using way too much time with
    way too many words. If there’s no wall clock I find myself trying
    to sneak a look at my watch. I say “sneak” because it would not
    be polite or politically correct to show lack of rapt attention.

    My past take on “stem winder” was that while the rabble were
    being roused by a speaker, the more hip guys were looking at
    their pocket watches and pretending to wind them to cover up
    their boredom.

    Word Detective’s version seems to come closer to the actual
    way it is and has been used.

    Word Detectives take on it reflects actual current usage whatever it’s origins.

  11. Patty:

    The first time I heard the word stemwinder was from my grandfather. My son was a very active and entertaining little tike and my grandfather would call him a stemwinder when he spent time with him. He was a very gifted journalist and continued writing until his death at 92. He passed away four years ago. Energetic and excellent would be the best definition for this word.

  12. Steve Johnson:

    A stemwinder is the final speech on the program, the one so powerful that it yanks the audience to its feet and leaves it cheering as hard as it can. It’s the equivalent of a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth and the winning Hail Mary in football. So let’s talk about “truck.” It once referred to a load of produce that a farmer was taking to market. Only after a long time did the word get used to refer to the vehicle that brought the produce to market. Ever hear of “truck farms”? The term refers to produce farms, as distinct from farms that grow fields of grain.

  13. Helen:

    Do they still call them truck farms? When driving to the New Jersey shore in the 50′s and 60′s we would see the signs. We were told it was because trucks would come to take their produce to market.

    Speaking of truck, where did the expression “I’ll have no truck with you” originate?

  14. Michael:

    @ Helen- this website might help with that phrase:

  15. Steve Grant:

    Maybe it meant excellent once, but when’s the last time that you heard anyone use “stemwinder” to refer to anything as being excellent. I say that it means ‘long and boring’, and is usually tied in with the term, “rubber chicken circuit”, where such speeches are frequently given.

  16. Thomas:

  17. Richard Lindsey Jr:

    My dad used the word “stem winder ” with reference to predicting a hot weather day: “Today is going to be a real stemwinder”!

  18. Sean:

    My grandmother used this term once, to refer to a person. It was clearly a compliment, but I asked her what it means, and she said, if memory serves, that it suggested both keyed-up and good quality.

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