English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I've searched the web and found only definitions and paltry speculation as to the origin of this scolding phrase. How did it get put together this illogical way? Are there tacet words in the phrase that, if said, would make it seem more logical, such as

If I've told you once, I [might as well] have told you a thousand times [for all the good it did].

Where does this phrase originate, and how did it end up getting phrased that way?

share|improve this question
@kiamlaluno: link or it didn't happen. (^_^) – RegDwigнt Apr 30 '11 at 22:00
possible duplicate of Origin of "he's 6 feet tall if he's an inch" – kiamlaluno Apr 30 '11 at 22:04
Yep, it's a dupe, but one that's a bit hard to search for directly. So now what do I do with this question? Delete it?</meta> – kojiro May 1 '11 at 17:50
Can such a natural turn of phrase really be the subject of an inquiry into its origins? "I've said it a dozen times" isn't exactly unknown, and if you Google "told you [number] times* you'll get at least 50,000 for every one of "ten", "a dozen", "twenty", "fifty", "a hundred", "a million" and doubtless many others that I can't be bothered with. It's just a standard speech device that people reinvent repeatedly with whatever number comes to mind. – FumbleFingers May 2 '11 at 1:51
@Cawas: OK, I wasn't sure. And I agree, I don't think it's a dupe. – Callithumpian May 2 '11 at 21:57
up vote 1 down vote accepted

How about "thousands" of instances of its usage? I can't resist the irony! (Add your contribution!)

As a @FumbleFinger's once said:

It's just a standard speech device that people reinvent repeatedly

share|improve this answer
Allowed. Here's much the same construction printed 1730, reporting usage in 1649... books.google.com/… – FumbleFingers May 3 '11 at 1:03
@Fumble: You beat me to it! I was going to report on that find. So, does this mean you are "inquiring into its origins" after all? – Callithumpian May 3 '11 at 2:51
@Callithumpian: Damn you, sirrah! I am outed as a closet etymologist! – FumbleFingers May 3 '11 at 11:28
Good response, but I can't call it an answer. Maybe FumbleFingers is right, and there is no answer, but the chosen answer to Origin of "he's 6 feet tall if he's an inch" does an excellent job of describing how this kind of rhetorical hyperbole ends up getting formulated in language. But I still don't know what to do with this question. – kojiro May 3 '11 at 19:41
@kojiro as I said in the question, I don't think this is a duplicate at all - it's almost unrelated. You're asking about an origin of something that is almost sure to have no origin because it is way too standard. Anyone can come up with that, easily. To prove my point, I hope turning the answer into a CW and asking for contributions can make it big enough over time. ;) – cregox May 5 '11 at 15:50

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.