The risk of asking this question could be like asking the question

What is the origin of the phrase "I love you", or "I need a shower", etc

which grew out of spontaneous language use.

Anyway, I am willing to take that risk because I have a strong feeling that its origins could be traced to a few or a singular event.

Examples of usage:

  • There is no such thing as a free lunch.
  • There is no such thing as Truth.
  • There is no such thing as real democracy.
  • There is no such thing as blah .. blah ...
  • To demonstrate the universality of the phrase ... I was in the far-east many years ago and a vendor yelled to a passer-by "$30 for the bag". Passer-by shakes his head. "OK $29." After lowering a couple more rungs, the vendor finally says to the smiling man, "OK, I lose money, $25." The passer-by then forwards himself closer to the vendor to respond with, "There is no such thing as selling me your bag to lose money." To which the vendor responded, "Because you are my very special customer today." – Blessed Geek Feb 18 '13 at 17:16
  • Another interesting phrase is "to be a thing", like in "since when is it a thing" or "it's not even a thing!" – user2978 Feb 18 '13 at 19:17

I'm curious as to how else you would phrase "no such thing", so that it appears to you a strange enough construction as to make speaking of it's origin worth considering? It is the word no used in a normal manner, followed by the word such used in a normal manner, followed by the word thing used in a normal manner.

Such followed by thing we have from Old English "Exodus", which is believed compiled around 930-960 and composed earlier:

Hig worhton óðer swilc þing þurh hira drýcræft and þurh Egiptisce galdru fecērunt etiam ipsi per incantātiōnes Ægyptiacas et arcāna quædam simĭlĭter

No followed by such depends on when you consider nan with the final consonant dropped to stop being none and start being no. The following is earlier than that, from Ælfric's "The Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church", and at some point in the next couple of hundred years, na would have been used even if what followed began with a vowel, and this would be closer to no than to none.

na swilc word swa menn sprecadh, ac he is dhaes Faeder Wisdom, and word bidh wisdomes geswutelung. Thaet Word is Aelmihtig God, Sunu mid his Faeder.

While I can't find at na swilc þing or na swylc þing or similar, I think it suffices to say that by the time no and none were separate words in our language (though their senses still overlap so that some uses of "no such things" could be "none such thing", albeit that might sound a bit archaic).

If we don't care about when no began to be separate to none, then we can find "Nán swylc" in the 8th Century "Cynewulf's Christ".

"No such thing" is just normal English words used normally, rather than an idiom as such.

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  • I found two such instances in Jane Eyre - "no such thing". While "no such things" occurs only once. And "no such xxx" occur a total of 5 times. But I could not find "no such thing" in any of Shakespeare's plays, – Blessed Geek Feb 18 '13 at 18:44
  • 3
    I can't find "I like apples" in Shakespare too, but I've no doubt he would have understood it had I said it to him. – Jon Hanna Feb 18 '13 at 19:29
  • Jon is correct. The phrase "no such thing" really is just plain English. – Carl Smith Feb 18 '13 at 20:50

Actually, the phrase does appear in Shakespeare. In "Macbeth" during the famous speech "is this a dagger I see before me." I would be willing to bet that this might be the first usage of the phrase "there's no such thing."

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