"Different folks different strokes" Is this British, American or other country's idiom? I once consulted this to a British friend and she admitted had never heard it before


2 Answers 2


Tom Dalzell & Terry Victor, The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2015) has this entry for the phrase:

different strokes for different folks

different things please different people US

Singer Syleena "Syl" Johnson released the song "Different Strokes" (J. Cameron and J. Zachary) with this line in it in 1967; Sly and the Family Stone's 1968 mega-hit ["Everyday People"] put the phrase on the map.

  • Yes, I realize that 'times have changed' and that, as a jitterbug friend told me the other day, "one has different strokes for different folks." — Philadelphia Tribune, p. 5, 19 May 1945
  • "I got different strokes for different folks." {Quoting Cassius Clay} — Great Bend (Kansas) Daily Tribune, p. 6, 11 November 1966

So the phrase appears to go back to 1945 at least. The Muhammad Ali quotation suggests that in 1966 (at least in his milieu) the phrase was already familiar enough in the sense of different people having different tastes and interests that he could apply it as a kind of pun to his boxing tactics. You can hear Syl Johnson's (heavily James Brown–influenced) recording of "Different Strokes" here.


Both the British and North American Oxford dictionaries contain the phrase, so it is understandable in more than one dialect.

The phrase was notably used in the popular 1968 Sly and the Family Stones song Everyday People.

  • 2
    "Different strokes for different folks" was a running tag in Sly and the Family Stone's very popular 1968 "Everyday People", and Google Books gives a handful of earlier citations which cannot, however, be verified through their links. Sep 22, 2016 at 18:24
  • Thanks. Those are better examples and I have added them to my answer.
    – jejorda2
    Sep 22, 2016 at 19:15
  • @SvenYargs Thanks for catching that. I am updating the answer.
    – jejorda2
    Sep 23, 2016 at 12:18
  • I grew up in the UK duriig the 1950s and 60s and don't remember having heard it much before 1970, and then only in the context of US culture. I don't think it's originally British.
    – BoldBen
    Sep 23, 2016 at 17:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.