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

Sometimes, you come across someone saying something (usually tongue-in-cheek), which might go like this:

Tom: I really love eating noodles while watching Star Trek.
Linda: Wow, I do exactly the same thing all the time!
Tom: Were we separated at birth or something?

What does "separated at birth" mean here, and what connotation is it trying to convey?

share|improve this question
up vote 8 down vote accepted

In this context, the phrase "separated at birth" refers specifically to twins. It was not uncommon for twins to be separated at birth or a very young age in earlier times - especially in adoption cases, where one child would be picked up and the other left behind, etc. As fate would have it, many twins [have] rediscovered each other (and continue to do so). Many of these stories have captured the imagination of the public and attained a special degree of sensationalism.

Thus, separated at birth has grown into popular culture as a joke one uses when they meet someone that appears to share their traits, either physical or otherwise.

share|improve this answer
Those days? Which days do you mean? – Matt E. Эллен Sep 2 '11 at 11:23
I believe that in the first half of the 20th century, and possibly later, adoption agencies in the U.S. didn't make much effort to keep twins together (now they virtually never separate them). And it's a lot easier to place single babies than twins. See this website, which says separation of twins was relatively common during the Depression. – Peter Shor Sep 2 '11 at 14:25
@peter: maybe, probably, but the Oke's answer refers to "those days" as if he already referenced a time period. Hilariously. – horatio Sep 2 '11 at 15:14
@Matt Ellen Д - I think really by "those days" what is meant (whether Jimi realises it or not) is "before abortion was leagal in the USA." (1973) Back then it was fairly common for girls who got pregnant to disappear for a while, have the baby(ies), put them up for adoption, then reappear in school like they'd gone on vacation for a few months or something. – T.E.D. Sep 2 '11 at 16:27
I've edited out "those days" - it seems like just a slip of the finger that served no purpose apart from encouraging irrelevant comments. Excellent answer, @Jimi. – FumbleFingers Oct 4 '12 at 17:35

It means that since they have the same (unusual, in this case) tastes, they must be relatives and therefore must have been separated at birth, because at that moment they get to know each other like they were regular strangers.

Usually it's adopted to talk about two people that look alike (as they were siblings or even twins), such as it is shown on this site.

share|improve this answer

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.