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What does this idiom mean?
Where did it originate from?
In what circumstances could I use this phrase? (Because it is so cool.)

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4 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Actually the phrase predates Through the Looking Glass by at least thirty five years.

OED says

1836 T. C. Haliburton Clockmaker (1837) 1st Ser. 143 As large as life and twice as nateral.

This leads me to conclude that it was a catchphrase before Carroll used it, and perhaps before Haliburton used it.

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Thank- you Colin, could someone now go even further and tell me what brought about this catch phrase. –  Thursagen May 9 '11 at 23:15
    
I don't think you are going to get an answer any more specific than the ones given above. Why should there be an answer other than "because somebody thought it would sound good"? –  Colin Fine May 10 '11 at 13:13
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It's not really an idiom, per se. It's a quote from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.

'This is a child!' Haigha replied eagerly, coming in front of Alice to introduce her, and spreading out both his hands towards her in an Anglo-Saxon attitude. 'We only found it to-day. It's as large as life, and twice as natural!'

Coming from that book, it doesn't really have to make sense, or mean anything in a literal sense. It does seem to poke fun at the idea that anything can be twice as natural as life, which is the very definition of natural. All I can say is what the girl herself said: “Curiouser and curiouser! cried Alice.” Or perhaps you might do better to find the answer to the Mad Hatter's question, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" Readers pestered Carroll so much about the answer to that question (from Alice in Wonderland) that he responded in a later edition:

"Enquiries have been so often addressed to me, as to whether any answer to the Hatter's Riddle can be imagined, that I may as well put on record here what seems to me to be a fairly appropriate answer, viz: 'Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is never put with the wrong end in front!' This, however, is merely an afterthought; the Riddle, as originally invented, had no answer at all."

Long story short: Whatever 'large as life and twice as natural' may mean is open for debate. There is no unequivocal answer to your question.

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It's probably some mathematical pun. Charles Lutwidge Dawson (Lewis Carroll) was something of a mathematician, and "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" are apparently somewhat scathing critiques of the then new mathematics of algebra (relatively new to the West at least), which he found to be absurd compared to classical geometric mathematics. –  Phoenix May 9 '11 at 1:09
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While we're on the topic of answers to Carroll's Riddle, I know two other answers. One is There's a 'b' in both and an 'n' in neither. The other is They both have quills, although one's quills are used for fancy flights and the other's for flights of fancy. –  Peter Shor May 9 '11 at 3:03
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@Phoenix: It's Charles Lutwidge Dodgson of Dodgson's rule fame (...ok, so his math wasn't too well-known). I can't see any math in that joke, mathematics being my main focus. –  Charles May 9 '11 at 3:22
    
Damn, spent all my time getting the middle name right and didn't even check the last. Well, his implications can be somewhat obscure, especially given that it comes from a point of view well over a hundred years past. For instance, the Hatter's Tea Party is a Quaternion (which have largely fallen out of use since Vector Calculus), in which Alice replaces the missing fourth element, time, whom the Hatter has had a falling out with. Multiplication is noncommutative in Quaternions, where you get something like the "I mean what I say" not being the same as "I say what I mean" conversation. –  Phoenix May 9 '11 at 8:56
    
@Phoenix: have you a reference for "scathing critiques"? They're certainly suffused with maths, but I've never come across that interpretation (I've not read Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice for at least thirty years, but I think I would have recalled that). –  Colin Fine May 9 '11 at 14:42
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Original context.

'This is a child!' Haigha replied eagerly, coming in front of Alice to introduce her, and spreading out both his hands towards her in an Anglo-Saxon attitude. 'We only found it to-day. It's as large as life, and twice as natural!'

From Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carrol

I think it's an exaggeration. It means that something is really genuine, or natural.

That Lord of the Rings sword is as large as life, and twice as natural.

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Do you mean to say that it was taken from a book, and not actually an idiom? –  Thursagen May 9 '11 at 1:12
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Yes, but I've heard it reused as if it were one before. –  MikeVaughan May 9 '11 at 1:14
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The literal meaning of large as life (in relation to, say, a painting or statue) obviously predates the figurative use (hard to convey succinctly, maybe something like surprisingly). But that figurative use certainly existed in 1834, decades before Lewis Carrol added his twice as natural... books.google.com/… –  FumbleFingers May 9 '11 at 1:51
    
I'll just also add that in common parlance I think I've heard twice as ugly far more often than twice as natural. In general I'm not keen on the idea that OP already wanted to use the expression without even knowing what it meant, just because it sounds 'cool'. But to be honest the ugly variant probably has more 'street cred' anyway, and I personally don't think it would make a blind bit of difference to any supposed 'meaning'. –  FumbleFingers May 9 '11 at 1:59
    
I think you're probably right, FumbleFingers. Definitely right about it being used as "Larger than life" before Carrol. Also, the 'ugly' variant is definitely more widespread. –  MikeVaughan May 9 '11 at 12:25
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It's as large as life, and twice as natural! I didn't read the passage but to my understanding, what ever "It" referred to, the "It"'s length or size is comparable to life which is here used to mean "existence". Life itself is natural, so, here we are so fare: It = life.......life is natural implies that: It = natural if we assume n x natural = natural It = 2,3,4...x natural Why twice? Because it sounds better.

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