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How 'The Spigot' Became Gov. Scott's New Favorite Metaphor

A hand turns a garden spigot on and off
Anna Van Dine
/
VPR
Over the last few months, Gov. Phil Scott's "spigot" analogy has shown up hundreds of times in news articles and headlines.

Since early spring, Gov. Phil Scott has taken to using a particular gardening analogy to talk about the gradual reopening of Vermont’s economy during the pandemic. Enter "the spigot."

Here he is in April: "We're opening up the spigot just a little bit."

This spigot analogy has really caught on. To date, it’s shown up in hundreds (yes, hundreds) of articles and headlines. These days, just about everyone in Vermont knows that “turning the spigot” means more than just watering the garden.

The phrase seems to have made its debut at a press conference on April 6th:

“We will open the spigot, in some respects, to manage our way out of this,” Scott said. “It won't be a light switch; it will be incremental to make sure we don’t have any flare ups, a sudden rise.”

For a timeline outlining Vermont’s response to COVID-19, head here.

Since then, the spigot has shown up with Scott at just about all of his public appearances.  And it’s evolved into the more precise “quarter turn.”

Around the country, other local leaders have talked about incremental reopening in terms of a faucet, or a dimmer switch or a gas pedal, but no other governor or mayor seems to be talking about a spigot.

So where did it come from? Scott said even he’s not totally sure.

“It just came out of thin air,” he said. “I don’t use that analogy for anything else.”

He said he wanted a simple, big-picture way to explain all the decisions he’s been making about public health and the economy — what can open, when, and with what restrictions.

He quickly ruled out the “dimmer switch,” because, as he pointed out, “Not everyone has a dimmer on their light switch.”

A garden spigot runs full-throttle
Credit Anna Van Dine / VPR
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VPR
So far, this has not been the way that reopening has progressed in Vermont.

As for a “gas pedal,” the former Thunder Road driver said, “I get accused of overusing analogies with racing and cars.” 

One thing that felt pretty universal? Gardens.

“Everyone understands, I think, what a spigot is when they turn on their garden hose, so that would be a great way to explain what I’m talking about,” Scott said.

Maybe Scott landed on the spigot analogy because of his years with Dubois construction, which he used to co-own.

“I come from a mechanical background and I’ve always been a hands-on learner,” he said.

Or maybe it has something to do with growing up in Vermont.

“I mean think about when we were kids and going out, and [you’d] use the hose, or whatever it was,” Scott said. “You’d turn the spigot on or your mom or dad told you [that] you didn’t turn the spigot off enough and it was leaking – there’s just all kinds of memories [out there] about having an experience of some kind with a spigot.”

And, for the record, Gov. Scott’s spigot isn’t just any spigot. 

“I had someone who wanted to ask me, ‘Now is this a ball valve kind of a spigot? Or does it have a stem on it?’” he said. “And I think he was just joking, but there is this single type of half-turn type of ball valve… that would be an immediate opening."

Scott clairifed: “But what I’m talking about is really just cranking that stem open – and it can go around; it doesn’t have to be just one turn. It could be, like, five turns before it’s fully open.” 

As the pandemic progresses, Scott continues to adjust the state’s response, opening and closing the spigot as he deems necessary. And as long as he’s doing that, he says the spigot metaphor is not going anywhere.

“Well, it’s worked so far,” he said. “Until we get to having the spigot on full, I’m going to continue to use it.” 

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