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It seems to me that the adjective phrase "regular old" seems to have a few distinct usages, but a confusing conversation and some fruitless searches as to a specific definition have me coming to English Language & Usage SE for insight. I've also gathered some examples from Google Books to try to clarify my question.

Firstly, it seems to connote the meaning "standard", "basic", or "simple", particularly in educational texts:

"Notice how with ArrayList, you're working with an object of type ArrayList, so you're just invoking regular old methods on a regular old object, using the regular old dot operator." [1]

Another example:

Finally we've got an A9/C# Which is kind of exotic. To see where this one comes from, start with just a regular old A chord. [2]

But then it also seems to invoke the idea of being a "true" example of a certain thing--perhaps neither negative or positive.

"You're a regular old image, Jim, says she. I used to laugh at him and call him a regular old crawler." [3]

(Side note: I think this is the relevant definition of crawler -- 1. a person who tries to please someone in order to gain a personal advantage.)

Although anecdotally, I believe I've heard it in some early films in such a colloquial usage to express amazement or awe, which may support the "truest" definition:

"Why, it's a regular old feast!"

Lastly, it seems also to have a distinctly negative meaning, or at least a meaning meant to downplay, whether through humility or the implication of plainness or mundanity:

When I asked De Vonya to describe her typical day, she described herself as a "regular old lady." She said her life had become very boring since the baby's birth. [4]

Here's the inverse of that example, meant to show that something is lavish and expensive:

The properties at issue are not just regular old houses. In Cairo, the residence is a 4,200-square-foot, two-level house with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two living rooms [...etc] [5]

At any rate, since it seems to only occasionally describe things that are "regular", where on earth did this phrase and the "old" part come from? Is it interchangeable with or related to "regular old-fashioned"? Which, if any of these meanings are accepted definitions?


[1] : Head First Java By Kathy Sierra, Bert Bates
[2] : The Acoustic Guitar Fingerstyle Method By David Hamburger
[3] : Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present: N to Raz By John Stephen Farmer
[4] : Not Our Kind of Girl: Unraveling the Myths of Black Teenage Motherhood By Elaine Bell Kaplan
[5] : Congressional Record, V. 148, PT. 13, September 20, 2002 to October 1, 2002 edited by U S Congress

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    "regular old" means something more along the lines of "a typical" or even "a stereotypical". In other words, something basic and ordinary, definitely not unusual in any respect. It has a soft, congenial connotation of simplicity and straightforwardness. And this interpretation works for all the examples you've listed. – A.Ellett May 24 '15 at 23:42
  • I don't think this is really a set "phrase", as much as one of a variety of expressions in which "old" doesn't have a literal meaning, such as "big old" or "little old". – sumelic May 24 '15 at 23:50
  • Thanks for your input sumelic, that's a great point that I hadn't thought of. Do you know of any resources on the inclusion of "old" as a adjective modifier? – bazeblackwood May 24 '15 at 23:55
  • I'll look. So far I found it listed at Wiktionary under definition 7 of "old", with some examples, and the same definition is found in other places on the Web (whether copied from Wiktionary, the source of Wiktionary, or copied from a common source, I don't know.) en.wiktionary.org/wiki/old#Adjective – sumelic May 25 '15 at 0:06
  • @sumelic Thanks for that comment. It got me thinking that, when I use "old" in this sense, I tend to say "ol'", dropping the final "d". I don't generally do so if I mean "old" in the sense of age. – A.Ellett May 25 '15 at 0:08
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I'm not sure of the etymology of this phrase, but I can say something about its meaning and connotations.

"Regular old" means something more along the lines of "a typical" (or even "stereotypical" though in the sense of "expected", not in the negative sense that "stereotypical" often connotes). In other words, something basic and ordinary, but not unusual in any respect. It has a soft, congenial connotation of simplicity and straightforwardness, definitely not fancy or elaborate. And this interpretation works for all the examples you've listed.

So in the first example, the author is referring to typical examples of programmatic features for an object oriented language.

In the second example, the A chord could be viewed as the most basic and simple of chords around which all others are mere adornments.

In the third example, I would assume it's much the same but I feel I'd need more context to understand what "she" meant by "image". And, I'm not familiar with the word "crawler" either.

In the fourth example, this is a feast as you would expect a feast to be.

In the fifth example, the woman isn't downplaying herself. She's just saying she's not complicated, she's not one to create drama for others. She's your basic congenial old lady. If there's any negative connotation here, it's not created by the use of the phrase "regular old". Rather it's created by the following sentence in which she describes her daily life as "boring".

In the last example, the implication is that, since these house are not "regular old" ones, they are quite lavish, which is supported by the following sentence.

  • Thanks. Do you have any idea to the etymology though? I would guess that it originated from "regular old-fashioned", but I can't find any supporting evidence either way. It would also seem to me a little bit that the "typical" definition diverges a little bit from this usage: "Regular old analog TV is still doing okay." This would seem to me to imply something more along the lines of "traditional". – bazeblackwood May 24 '15 at 23:51
  • @pizzasynthesis Regarding the TV, older analog TV's seem simple by comparison with modern TVs. Except for the tube itself, they were very easy to repair at home and tinker with (I did that a fair amount as a kid). Here the connotation of "simplicity" is coming through. – A.Ellett May 24 '15 at 23:56
  • @pizzasynthesis I'm not sure of the etymology of this phrase. Maybe someone can say something about that. – A.Ellett May 24 '15 at 23:57

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