Wheeling Register, July 3, 1883. The phrase “poisoning the well” still gets bandied about a lot, but only as a metaphor in discussions about rhetorical rules of engagement. But back before the days of socialized tap water, literal well-poisoning was a common crime. But the crime was nowhere near as common as charges of well-poisoning, because everybody who drank from a well was very conscious of its vulnerability to interference.