I know of the oxymoron, and that it means that the differences are irrelevant.
But I wonder, where did this oxymoron originate? (Where, how, etc)

  • Note to researchers: be careful in searches of a different meaning that might show up using the same phrase. You can compare two comparisons. There is a difference between A and B. There is a difference between X and Y. You can say that it is the same difference, but that is a completely different meaning. – fixer1234 Jun 15 '17 at 4:52

Same difference, a curious way to say "equal," is attested from 1945. (Etymonline).

Usage note:

  • Often used in a grammatically incomplete form, as a pro-sentence, meaning "That is a distinction which makes no significant difference." For example:
    • 2000 July 31, Lev Grossman, "Report From MacWorld Expo," Time: Apple as a company has been as much about design as about technology. Is it in danger of putting form ahead of function? Same difference, says Jobs. (Wiktionary)

The Word Detective makes an interesting analysis on its possible origin and usage:

  • "Same difference” is a colloquial idiomatic expression meaning “no difference” or “the same, equivalent” (“You say he was fired? But he says he left to spend more time with his Airedale.” “Same difference.”).

  • According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest use of the phrase in print found so far is from 1945, in a book titled “I Am Gazing Into My 8-Ball” by the legendary New York gossip columnist Earl Wilson. It’s likely, of course, that the phrase was widely used for years before it made it into print.

  • The problem with “same difference” for many people is simply that the phrase, as it is commonly used, makes no sense. If something is the “same” as something else, there is no difference. You can say “the same” or “no difference,” but “same difference” gives a lot of people headaches. One poster I came across on the internet called it “the most moronic oxymoron in the English language,” and conservative arbiters of traditional English usage traditionally go berserk when encountering “same difference.”

  • There is, incidentally, a use of “same difference” that does make sense: the mathematical equivalence you mentioned and its metaphorical cousins.

  • So where did the use of “same difference” to mean “the same” come from? The most likely answer is simply that people combined “the same” and “no difference,” perhaps first as a mistake, and the phrase then “grew legs” because it embodies a certain cheeky humor, which brings us to an important point. “Same difference” is an idiom, a fixed phrase used in casual conversation.

  • Excellent answer Josh. Clearly same difference means It amounts to the same thing. But when you say that its problem is that it makes no sense (because it is paradoxical) - isn't that what an oxymoron is. It is not moronic but oxymoronic – WS2 Oct 1 '15 at 6:54

An Elephind search of newspaper databases finds several instances of "same difference" in the sense of "effectively the same" from the period 1929–1956. The earliest match is from "The Lion's Den" in the [State College, Pennsylvania] Penn State Collegian (November 29, 1929):

Same Difference

Prof: The grammar, spelling, and handwriting of these papers I am returning to you is very bad. Each one that was particularly poor I examined thoroughly to learn the class of the student. Invariably, the student was a sophomore, or a C & F senior.

From "Babies, Just Babies," a review of Gentlemen Are Born, in the Columbia [University, New York City] Daily Spectator (November 26, 1934):

Remember how "Little Men" ended? The young couple, beaten don by life, penniless, living in a loft, hold their newborn infant in their arms. The baby yawns, oh so cutely, and stretches forth its little arms and smiles. Life begins again, and the audience goes home happy.

In "Gentlemen Are Born" the same "solution" is offered. This time it's an engagement instead of a birth, but the baby's not far off, so it's the same difference. Bob (Franchot Tome) grabs the assenting Joan (Margaret Lindsay) in his arms and cries out, "Just let them try to stop me now!" This is called the indominable optimism of the American people.

From "Campus Scout," in the Champaign-Urbana, Illinois] Daily Illini (June 30, 1935):


Red Taylor: "Let's go for a swim, Ras."

Raskowski: "Can't. I gotta take a bath.

—Armory Pug.

And from "Bill Corum Says ...." in the San Bernardino [California] Sun (April 25, 1937):

From all appearances they still are the same old [Boston] Braves. Or, if you prefer, the same old Bees. The trade name of Bees makes it easier for sports page headline writers. Possibly, too, for opposing teams. Otherwise it's the same difference. Just call a team "Boston" these days and it will start losing, and keep right on losing until the cows come home. Ask [Red Sox owner] Tom Yawkey, he knows!

The first three instances of "same difference" come from U.S. student newspapers—at Penn State University, Columbia University, and the University of Illinois—suggesting that the phrase in its relevant sense may have enjoyed early popularity among college students.

Another interesting discussion of "same difference" appears in 1933, perhaps triggered by the emergence of "same difference" as a catch-phrase, but urging its validity when used to mean "the same degree or numerical value of difference in one case as in another specified case." From The Literary Digest, volume 117, part 1 (1934):

same difference.—"G. F. H.," Windber, Pa.—When the difference between any two objects is identical with the difference between any two other objects, it is correct to say that the "same difference" exists between the two couples, as. for instance, the difference between 2 and 11 is 9. The same difference exists between the numbers 3 and 12. Again, a child differs in its resemblance to a parent. The same difference may be noted in another child of the same parentage.


"Same difference" as a catch-phrase meaning "effectively the same" seems to have been in use on at last one U.S. college campus by 1929 and to have spread to others within the next six years. Whether it originated as college slang is difficult to say—but in any event, it had reached the outside world (as represented by nationally syndicated sports columnist Bill Corum) by April 25, 1937.

protected by Mitch Jun 14 '17 at 12:13

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