I was amused with the introductory part of the New York Times’ article(September 13) by Dick Cavett called “As comics say, ‘These kids today! I tell ya!’” that begins:

“Many and many a year ago, in the kingdom of ABC, Woody Allen was one of my very first guests. And we consented to take questions from an eager audience of mostly young people. Like ourselves. The questioner looked like a high school girl and shouted to Woody from the balcony,

“Do you think sex is dirty?”

Allen: “It is if you do it right.”

Besides Allen’s exquisite riposte, I was drawn to the beginning words, “Many and many a year ago”.

Is it the same as “many many years ago”? Why is ‘year’ in a singular form when you are referring to multiple years' time span?

Is “many and many a” an idiom, or a set pattern of phrase? Can I say 'I bought many and many a book this month" instead of 'I bought many books this month,' and 'I have many and many a question to post in EL&U' instead of 'I have a lot of questions ---'?


What RyeBread said.

"It was many and many a year ago, in a kingdom by the sea" is the opening of a great poem by Edgar Allen Poe. Anabel Lee

Presumably Dick Cavett assumes that anyone over a certain age educated in the US (i.e. those who were viewers of his TV show) read the poem in school, and will understand the reference.

  • I can wrap my head around this phrase only in the equation, ‘many + many × a year = many many years.’ – Yoichi Oishi Sep 15 '13 at 8:16
  • You are right: the surface meaning is "many years ago". And "in the kingdom of ABC" means "at ABC". But in addition to this, there is the reference to Poe. – GEdgar Sep 15 '13 at 13:33

He stole the phrase from Poe. Just using a famous quote as an attention getter. I personally think people should have their own style but some people like it.

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