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What does the phrase "as a matter of course" mean and where does it come from?

The Prime Minister should have taken action "as a matter of course".

It is an odd phrase that I've often felt doesn't make enough sense to have become a cliché, or perhaps that's exactly why it's become a cliché.

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The expression is from the 18th century and derived from the extended meaning and usage of “course” in the sense is series of action,in this case to be expected.

Matter of course "something expected" attested from 1739.

Course:

  • Most of the extended senses developed 14c. from notion of "line in which something moves" (as in hold one's course) or "stage through which something must pass in its progress." Thus, via the meaning "series or succession in a specified or systematized order" (mid-14c.) comes the senses of "succession of prescribed acts intended to bring about a particular result".

(Etymonline)

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