Laid on like the gas

D ("The Dead") 15.1028-9: – He has been laid on here like the gas, said Aunt Kate in the same tone, all during the Christmas.

Although it is clear that Aunt Kate obviously thinks that Mr Browne has outstayed his welcome, the phrase “laid on here like the gas” might at first seem a bit puzzling to modern readers.

The expression was in fact quite popular between the 1850 and the 1930s and was most frequently used with a slightly different wording and (in early occurrences) a literal meaning:

Beyond all this the sound may be laid on, like gas, to any pew or any quarter of the church; for there may be a tube (which we will call the main-pipe) laid along the centre aisle, and lateral tubes may spring from this to any required spot.

George Dodd, The Curiosities of Industry and the Applied Sciences (1852), ch. 5 p. 19

A new field of enterprise is now open to engineers, and I may venture to predict that, at no very distant period from the present, motive power, in the form of compressed air, will be laid on, like gas or water, to the door of the manufactory.

Journal of the Society of Arts (1872), 20 September, pp. 861-2

The installation of water and gas in the cities created a new phrasal verb: “to lay on”, first noted by the OED with reference to the supply of water in 1845.1 The fact that it is frequently given between inverted commas bears witness that as a comparison (“laid on like the gas”) it was regarded as a new usage:

In a house with a telephone in every room, poor Benedict might be tempted to imagine that his mother-in-law had been 'laid on', like the gas and hot water.

The Canadian Monthly and National Review (1878), vol. 12, p. 415

The meaning of the phrase varies between expected reliability, availability and being a nuisance, at times with a hint at irascible temper:

Hang this fellow, he's always here, He's reg'larly laid on like the gas.

Henry James Byron, Thousand Pounds. An original comedy, in three acts (1868), act 1, p. 12

Our religion must be 'laid on' like the gas and the hot and cold water in our houses.

Thomas Gunn Selby, The Imperfect Angel: And Other Sermons (1888), ch. 6, p. 125

The manner in which Mr. Alexander dispersed this entertainment showed that he was already equipped with one important qualification of a Master of Hounds — a temper laid on like gas, ready to blaze at a moment's notice.

Edith Œnone Somerville and ‎Martin Ross, The Tinker’s Dog in All on the Irish Shore (1903), p. 22

After the first meeting of what was known as the Court of Directors of the Gas, Light and Coke Company had been held at 27 Norfolk Street, Strand on 24 June 1812, gas started to be laid on all over Britain and Ireland, at first as a civic amenity (street lighting, etc.) and subsequently also for domestic supply.

Harald Beck


1 See also Central Criminal Court: Minutes of Evidence (1837), vol. 7, p. 114: “ Q. When the gas was laid on, was it done by the regular workmen? A. I suppose so — I did not go out to look at them.“

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