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And in those 10 years I can say that I may have learned a thing or twelve.

What's the meaning of "learned a thing or twelve"? Is it an idiom?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

The phrase learned a thing or twelve isn't an idiom.

A thing or two is a common way of saying one or two things (or less precisely a few things).

The author has tweaked that phrase, replacing two with twelve. This not only increases the meaning from a few things to several things or many things, but by altering a more common phrase, it draws attention to the increase by differing from what a reader familiar with the original phrase might have anticipated.

So to sum up, you could reword your original sentence as:

And in those 10 years I can say that I may have learned several (or many) things.

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Whoever said "a thing or twelve" is not a good user of English. It bends a good idiom in a harsh, grating way. If you had to do this, "a thing or three" would get the job done while rolling nicely off the aveolar ridge. I am going to stop at church on my to work this morning and kneel down in front of the altar and pray to God that I never, ever again in this life EVER encounter the phrase "a thing or twelve" again. (shudder) –  The Raven Apr 8 '11 at 10:25
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"A thing or three" is without question better, but the reference to twelve may have been used jokingly, in which case it could be valid. If the object of learning was commonly associated with the number 12 it might be quite clever. Example: "I have learned a thing or twelve about the Apostles" I think is passable. –  thesaundi Apr 8 '11 at 10:41
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@TheRaven, what's wrong with "a thing or twelve"? Sounds perfectly fine to me. –  Marthaª Apr 8 '11 at 14:34
    
@TheRaven - Seriously? Thing or three makes it sound like you have a lisp, and changing tw o to tw elve preserves the maximal amount of the original saying (unless one wants to go to two hundred). –  Rex Kerr Apr 8 '11 at 17:52
    
"A thing or two" is deliberate understatement for literary effect. Changing it to "a thing or three," or "a thing or twelve" undermines the very reason for the phrase in the first place. –  James McLeod Feb 24 '12 at 19:24
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A thing or two is an an idiom for a few things. "A thing or twelve" implies ignorance or cluelessness beforehand. An example would be you talked to someone about a topic that you thought you knew pretty well, only to learn a lot of stuff from them and realize the you were really a lot more ignorant of the topic than you had thought. Afterword, you might say "I talked to Bill about Thatcher's economic policies and learned a thing or twelve."

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