Is the normal expression 'as dim as dishwater' or 'as dim as ditchwater?

When you google this it comes up as 'dull as dishwater/ditchwater'.

There is a difference between being 'dim' and being 'dull'.

The former means lacking in intelligence and sharpness, what Americans might call 'dumb'. The latter means uninteresting.

So which is it - dim as dishwater/ditchwater - dull as dishwater/ditchwater?

  • 1
    "Dull" can also mean "mentally slow; slow in perception or ability" (see MW Online). I've never heard the phrase "dim as ..." either dishwater or ditchwater. Some googling of "dull as ..." suggests that "ditchwater" is the older term, but "dishwater" is more widely used now. Aug 26 '14 at 11:25
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    I've also heard both dishwater/ditch-water with dull, but never with dim. dim as a toc-H lamp would be my phrase of choice for dim.
    – Frank
    Aug 26 '14 at 11:30
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    It's always dull - originally as ditchwater, but dishwater became dominant over 30 years ago. And dim was never in the running (why would any water, even metaphorically, be dim?). Aug 26 '14 at 11:34
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    @Frank: Toggling between US/UK corpuses in my NGram there shows that dishwater is far less common in the UK. On the basis of my own experience, and allowing for a certain amount of misclassification by Google Books, I'd go so far as to say it's virtually unknown my side of the pond. I know dishwater could be defended on semantic grounds (unlike dim), but I still think it's an eggcorn primarily based on oft-repeated mishearings. Aug 26 '14 at 12:38
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    @Janus: I see the dullness of ditch/dishwater as a figurative stretch (from literal "unreflective" to "not interesting"). And to me things are usually only described as dim if they actually emit a low level of light (as opposed to not reflecting much light, in which case they're dull). Aug 26 '14 at 13:33

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