"peter out"(Phrase Origins)
This expression meaning "to dwindle to nothing" is recorded from 1846, which precludes derivation "peter" in the sense "penis", an Americanism not attested until 1902. "To peter out" was apparently first used by American miners referring to exhausted veins of ore. The origin is uncertain. It may come from "saltpetre" (used in the miners' explosives, so called because it forms a salt-like crust on rocks, ultimately from Greek _petra_ = "rock", whence we also get "petrify" and "petroleum"); or it may come from French _peter_, which literally means "to fart" but is used figuratively to mean "to fizzle" and in the phrase _peter dans la main_ = "to come to nothing" (this comes from the Indo-European root _*perd-/_*pezd-_, whence we get "fart", "feisty", "fizzle", "partridge", "pedicular", and "petard").
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