Today I have another interesting old adage to look into for our ‘Adage Origin’ Blog posts. The term adage may be better known to you as a common saying or turn of phrase. We’re talking about idioms that are so interwoven into our everyday speech, we hardly even know we’re using them when we do. Some examples that we covered last year are ‘Put a Sock in It’ and ‘Fit as a Fiddle’. Today we’re taking a look at the phrase ‘Dime a Dozen’.
This is a saying that’s used to reference things that are cheap and plentiful. It goes back to a time around the 1850s when the phrase was initially ‘A Dozen for a Shilling’—describing items that were sold in bulk at low prices. The ‘shilling’ used to be a British coin that was still widely used by Americans in the U.S. at that time. It had been valued a bit higher than the ten cents of the dime.
When the price of goods dropped to a dime per dozen, however, the phrase quickly shifted to ‘A Dime a Dozen’ and, over time, it worked its way into our culture as it’s still a commonly used phrase today. It’s not a complimentary statement, implying something is of low quality and not worth much.
Probably the most interesting thing about the phrase ‘A Dime a Dozen’ is that it’s not unique to the U.S. (or England with their “A Dozen for A Shilling”). Similar idioms are used in other countries that speak other languages! There’s the French, for instance, who say “Dix Sous la Douzaine" which translates to “Ten Cents per Dozen.” And then there’s the German saying, "Zehn Pfennig das Dutzend" which means “Ten Pfennigs per Dozen.”
The fact that other non-English speaking countries have these phrases implies that it isn’t unique in America for goods to be sold at a discount when sold in bulk and are thus considered to be cheap.
Be sure to tune in the following month when we’ll investigate where the phrase ‘Knock on Wood’ comes from. Thanks for reading, Camp Fans. And, as always, Happy Camping!