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"To give someone the 411" is short for information but is this phrase common in the US and/or in Britain and is it still up to date or outdated?

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    411 is the US phone number for Directory Enquiries, I believe. It's not relevant in the UK (we use six-digit numbers starting 118, but they don't form part of any equivalent numerical phrase).
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 24, 2013 at 10:24
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    Not in Britain.
    – DavidR
    Apr 24, 2013 at 10:24
  • OK, that's clear now. But is this phrase still common in use or just outdated?
    – user43123
    Apr 24, 2013 at 10:39
  • I have never heard it, how do you say it? Is it "four eleven"? Or the full "four hundred eleven"? Apr 24, 2013 at 12:24
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    @Anton: It's pronounced "four one one", in the same way that 911 (the emergency phone number, not the terrorist attack) is pronounced "nine one one". See Merriam-Webster. Apr 24, 2013 at 15:30

3 Answers 3

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The urban dictionary has a definition for it, which is probably a good barometer for its utility in AmE slang. I'm from the western USA, and it doesn't strike me as outdated. It is, however, becoming more and more trite after movies like Clueless ("Here's the 411 on Mr. Hall") made it synonymous with the Valley Girl dialectic of Angelinos.

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    Even M-W has a definition!
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 24, 2013 at 10:58
  • Found the Urban dictionary source, too, but could not assess whether its common in use or not. Now I can, thanks to you. :-)
    – user43123
    Apr 24, 2013 at 11:06
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    Perhaps it's not outdated, but I'd say it has an outdated ring to it. After all, who calls 411 anymore?
    – J.R.
    Apr 24, 2013 at 11:14
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    +1 for triteness. I've found that as a cultural norm, it is considered girly (not just feminine) and decidedly "west coast". I would note it's also come to mean something other than it's original meaning, which was "give me the basic facts of the matter" as-in "just the facts, ma'am" (from DragNet) because that's all you can get from dialing 411 (phone number, address). In the last few decades it is often used to include more comprehensive details. It seems to be falling out of general fashion, at least partially because 411 itself is falling out of fashion.
    – BrianH
    Apr 24, 2013 at 17:27
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    . . . let alone trying to find a phone booth from which to call 411! Apr 24, 2013 at 18:30
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The OED says the slang use is chiefly and originally US with quotations from 1982 to 2007, the earliest in the song "Jump to It", performed by Aretha Franklin's 1982 and written by Luther Vandross and Marcus Miller:

We have a lot of fun
Don't we, girl
Dishing out the dirt on everybody
And giving each other the 411
On who dropkicked who this week.

Searching Twitter for "the 411", you can see it's still definitely in use, and this map only returns US results (at the time of writing).

But I'm British and I'd never heard it before, and it wouldn't make sense with the equivalent to say you'd "give someone the 118" (nor with the older 192).

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  • It's featured several times in popular music, mostly in black genres such as R&B, e.g. Mary J Blige's "What's the 411" (1992), Demarco "411" (2012), jazzer George Duke (2014), and there was an early 00s British R&B band called 411 (who weren't very successful). So it's living on as slang particularly in black culture.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 19, 2022 at 13:47
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It is an Americanism and is outdated since nobody rings information / directory inquiries anymore.

It could also be misconstrued by today's digital generation since 411 is the http error code for "length required". So giving somebody the 411 might have a whole new meaning ;-)

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