There was the following passage in Maureen Dowd’s article titled, “Hooray for Hillarywood?” in New York Times May 30 issue:

“You hear plenty of complaints about the president’s mingy care and feeding of donors. “It’s not unheard-of to think that liking people is part of the job,” one political in our consultant to the stars said tartly.”

I don’t think I’ve heard the phrase, “It’s not unheard-of to do” so often.

Google Ngram shows that the incidences of usage of “It’s not unheard of …” is more than 1 digit lower (0.0000004080% in 2000) as compared with that of “It’s not unusual.”(0.000006443%).

Can I use “It’s not unheard-of to do” in the same way as “It’s not unusual to do,” or are they very different sets of words?

In Japanese, "聞いたことがない―I've never heard of" is very common, but we don't say "聞いたことがなくない- I've not unheard of."

If a non-native speaker like me uses “It’s not unheard-of to do” in his conversation with native English speakers, does it sound awkward or does it add a flourish?

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    It is a relatively common phrase. It does mean roughly the same as "It's not unusual", except that it implies that the "thing" is a bit rarer than just "unusual".
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 1, 2015 at 2:48
  • "Mingy" ?? Never heard of it!! is that really what the article said? Jun 1, 2015 at 6:28
  • @Brian Hitchcock. Can I say "It's not unheard-of to think you've never heard of the word, 'mingy' when many others say it's a common phrase?".Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary defines 'mingy' as adjective (BrE. informal) small, not generous. Jun 1, 2015 at 7:10
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    Maybe you mean it IS unheard-of to think.... But more likely you'd say it's odd, or highly improbable that I hadn't heard the word "mingy". Actually, it's not odd at all. As you noted, the term is BrE, and I'm an American, so I have never heard it or seen it in print, in all my 64 years on this earth. I wouldn't know whether it rhymes with "dinghy" or "dingy". Sorry for not just looking it up. Jun 1, 2015 at 10:02

1 Answer 1


You may note that the person being quoted was characterized as speaking "tartly", which means that their remark is purposefully unkind, angry, or bitter.

"It's not unheard of" is often used in a wry, tart, or sarcastic manner to make it clear that what you're speaking about is actually quite common and you are in fact pointing out that your target's lack of whatever is bothersome to you. For example:

Woman puts on a brand new dress for a night out with her boyfriend.
Boyfriend: "New dress?"
Woman: "Yes!"
Boyfriend: "Thought so."
Woman waits a moment, expecting boyfriend to express appreciation of her new dress.
Boyfriend says nothing else.

Woman, angrily: "You know, it's not unheard of to compliment a lady who's wearing a hot new dress for a night out!"

(It can also be used sincerely, in which case the intonations will be very different.)

In general, "It's not unheard of" is a perfectly decent turn of phrase and need not be avoided for fear of sounding awkward or unusual.

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