Though it is by no means common, I've heard this expression multiple times recently, and I'm wondering why it isn't "eighteen" to the dozen, or "thirteen", or "twenty". Where did "nineteen" come from?

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    I quite like the fact that some smart-ass at Google programmed to look out for this one, just so they could have the calculator smugly tell us it's 2.21331492 × 10^15 Jul 4, 2011 at 16:25
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    I don't think it was this phrase in particular. I just tried googling "twelve to the five" and got it calculated, too.
    – GEdgar
    Jul 4, 2011 at 17:04
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    @GEdgar: Nobody says it that way, though. This may be conspiracy-theorish, but I think they included that form just so "nineteen to the dozen" would be included. :)
    – Daniel
    Jul 4, 2011 at 17:10
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    It even calculates "nineteen to the baker's dozen" for you. :D
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Jul 4, 2011 at 18:08
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    Daniel (re your comment), no, they included it because they include all powers. "Three to the two" gets you 9. cc @GEdgar
    – msh210
    Aug 5, 2016 at 16:21

1 Answer 1


I can't vouch for its veracity, but here's a site claiming the expression has its origins in the Cornish tin mining industry.

Beam engines were introduced to reduce flooding in the mines, and they pumped out 19,000 gallons of water for every 12 bushels of coal needed to operate the engines – a much faster and more efficient way of pumping water than the hand pumps they replaced.


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