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What Does It Mean If Something Is "in the Pipeline"?

Jim B.
Updated May 23, 2024
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If something is described as being "in the pipeline," it means that it has not yet arrived but is expected to arrive in the future. This English idiom generally refers to plans that have not yet come to fruition but, if all goes well, will be fulfilled. In this context, "in the pipeline" is an idiom usually reserved for the plans and projects undertaken by businesses or other large institutions. The phrase gets its meaning from the fact that oil in pipelines is on its way from oil wells to refineries.

An idiom is an English phrase that may originate from a certain source only to have its meaning change as people use the phrase over time. The meaning of an idiom may end up being far different from what the meaning originally have been. Its meaning can even be entirely different than the definitions of the words it contains. Nonetheless, these phrases are useful in that they are extremely expressive and colorful. One such idiomatic expression is the phrase "in the pipeline."

When something is described in this manner, it means that it is going to arrive at some point, but it hasn't yet. In that respect, someone who uses this term to describe something is often making a promise about its eventual delivery. The person may also be reassuring his or her audience that this delivery will indeed occur, especially if it may have been delayed for some reason. As an example, someone might say, "I know I haven't delivered that report yet, but I promise that it's in the pipeline."

Companies often use this term for projects that have been undertaken or may even be simply in the discussion phase. Politicians also use this phrase to inform their constituents of some piece of legislature that is coming at some point down the line. No matter who is using the phrase, the implication is always that the thing to which they are referring may not be here yet, but it will at some point. Someone, for example, might say, "Our new model of automobile is in the pipeline and it promises to be our most popular to date."

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Jim B.
By Jim B.
Freelance writer - Jim Beviglia has made a name for himself by writing for national publications and creating his own successful blog. His passion led to a popular book series, which has gained the attention of fans worldwide. With a background in journalism, Beviglia brings his love for storytelling to his writing career where he engages readers with his unique insights.
Discussion Comments
By kylee07drg — On Jul 29, 2012

My brother-in-law works on the construction of pipelines, so if he or his coworkers ever use this idiom at work, it generally means something is wrong. They don't want to have anything in the pipeline while they are building it!

I have heard politicians use this phrase as an idiom. Unfortunately, when they something is in the pipeline, it will usually be a long time before it actually arrives. They are always promising things that they don't have the actual power to deliver rapidly.

So, I don't have any good experiences with this idiom. The only results I've seen from someone saying something is in the pipeline were lots of overtime hours for my brother-in-law!

By Oceana — On Jul 29, 2012

@healthy4life – It is a rather unusual idiom! I had never heard it before my boss used it last year in a meeting.

The other department had been pressuring her to get her part of a project completed, and the meeting was sort of an interrogation for her and our department. She reassured them that we would have it completed soon. She said, “I promise you, it is in the pipeline.”

I didn't know what it meant at the time, but I could infer from the context of the sentence that she meant it was on the way. We really were wrapping things up, so she didn't just say this to save face.

By lighth0se33 — On Jul 28, 2012

I have an uncle who uses this phrase a lot. He used to work for an oil company, so pipelines and petroleum are always in the back of his mind.

My cousins and I find it humorous when he says something is in the pipeline. He often has cookouts where he fries fish, hushpuppies, and potatoes, and if one of us asks him if the food is ready yet, he replies, “It's in the pipeline. Be there soon.”

The first time we heard him say this, we said, “Ew!” It conjured up a mental image of food coated in black oil, and it momentarily staved off our appetites. This is good, because we were hungry and getting impatient.

By healthy4life — On Jul 27, 2012

I have never heard this idiom before! People who I work with usually just say, “It's on the way,” or, “It's in the works.”

I suppose that it is more of a big business term, though. I work for a small family-owned business, so for any of us to say that something is in the pipeline might sound a bit odd.

Whenever we are working on something that isn't quite ready yet and a client asks my boss about it, she just tells them that it is in the works. I wonder if they would even know what she meant if she told them that it was in the pipeline?

Jim B.
Jim B.
Freelance writer - Jim Beviglia has made a name for himself by writing for national publications and creating his own...
Learn more
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