It turns out, and I was quite surprised by this, that “to ditch the line” is used almost exclusively in Central Ohio, particularly in Columbus and surrounding areas of Franklin County (which is where my wife Kathy grew up and quite close to where we live now). Steven H. Keiser of the Department of Linguistics at Ohio State University in Columbus has been researching use of the phrase for several years, and has discovered several interesting angles to use of this “ditch,” including one that may help explain its origin.

The question, of course, is how “to ditch,” even in its slang sense of “jilt, abandon, discard,” could come to mean “butt into line.” It might be simply a greatly extended use of the “discard” sense to mean “blithely disregard the rights of other people in line,” but that seems a stretch. Some have suggested that a queue-jumper metaphorically “digs a ditch” in the middle of the line and steps in, but that seems even more elaborate and unlikely.

It has also been suggested that this “ditch” actually has no connection to the “trench” sort of ditch but is actually a modified form of the 18th century English slang term “to dish,” meaning “to ruin, defeat, circumvent” (from the sense of food being done and “dished,” i.e., put on plates). The same “dish” is found in the slang phrase “dish it out” and its modern relative, “dish the dirt” meaning “tell gossip.” Interestingly, and perhaps significantly, Steven Keiser at OSU spent some time asking people in and around Columbus about “ditch,” and discovered that people over the age of 40 (in 2001) tended to remember using the term “dish” to mean “cut in line,” while young children used, as you note, simply “D.” While not conclusive, the use of “dish” in this sense by the older generation may well indicate that “dish” is indeed the source of this sense of “ditch.”

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