I came across this phrase around 20 years ago, and have always understood it to mean 'most of'. I might complain about having to pay "the thick end of £4" for a coffee, when it cost somewhere between £3.00 and £3.99. That meaning sounds fairly obvious to me. I'm in the UK.

Imagine my surprise when I used it in company recently, and it was interpretted differently. That a "journey would take the thick end of 9 hours" was received as not as the "around 8 hours 45 minutes" that I meant, but as "over 9 hours, possibly a lot over". Is this reasonable?

I have looked on the net, and the best I can come up with was The Free Dictionary (right at the bottom, References in classic literature) which has many examples, but still no definition.

Can anyone find a published definition, an argument for what the interpretation should be, or at least moral support for my interpretation?

  • Since this is a question about an idiom, you might want to add a location tag to this question, since often those are regional in use. I'm guessing you're probably asking about the UK, but you didn't explicitly say.
    – nick012000
    Aug 18, 2018 at 9:30
  • oxforddictionaries: the thick end of - (informal) the greater part of (something). Personally I don't think you could reasonably call any value less than £3.50 "the thick end of £4". By that logic, someone might say £110 was "the thick end of £200", which sounds like nonsense to me. So the fact that OP himself has what I consider to be a non-standard understanding of the scope of the idiomatic usage implies it's hardly surprising if others have different understandings too. Aug 18, 2018 at 12:38
  • What a delightful expression for roughly or about. Going back in time, there must have been a smooth end as well. Whatever could this be? A boardroom came from guys having meetings over a board and standing around it. I wonder about this one....
    – Lambie
    Aug 18, 2018 at 13:02

3 Answers 3


You are correct!

the thick end of Lexico

It is a British idiom. Oxford Dictionaries explains it as:

(informal) The greater part of (something)

"he was borrowing the thick end of £750 every week."

Your sentence "journey would take the thick end of 9 hours" in this context, roughly means, it will take almost 9 hours, but not more than 9 hours. In other words, it will take greater part of 9 hours.


In "the thick end of [amount]" where the end begins is somewhat subjective and vague.


I can't help but think that the thick end of [amount] and "the thin end of the wedge" may be related as they seem to have started life about the same time,


thick end n. the greater part of anything (colloquial and dialect).

1847–78 J. O. Halliwell Dict. Archaic & Provinc. Words (at cited word) ‘The thick-end of a mile’. Linc.


b. the thin (little or small) end of the wedge, a small beginning which it is hoped or feared may lead to something greater. Also attributive.

1856 C. Fox Jrnl. 8 Nov. in Mem. Old Friends (1882) xxii. 308 Beware, Englishmen, of the tendencies to hierarchy in your country when the thin end of the wedge is introduced: it will work its way on to all this.


I am a regular user of this expression and have been for my entire life (b 1961). Its use is endemic in my family and is well known amongst my local peer group, even though it is mostly viewed as obselete now. So that's older blokes with caps and whippets. I can confirm that it was widely used in the areas that I was brought up in ie south east Manchester/north Cheshire/Derbyshire (down to Buxton) - other areas probably used it too. I continue to use it because I like to preserve archaic language (as a counter to youth culture). You want to speak in code? Me too. As for 'proper' useage - it's got to be a high % of something, at least 80% IMO.

  • 3
    It is neither obsolete nor archaic. It is in common current use.
    – Chenmunka
    Jul 6 at 10:26
  • I'd dispute 'common'. It was once common, in my youth. Now uncommon and not in popular useage - I've not come across it in the media at all. I tried to qualify my 'obsolete' and 'archaic' (very old or old fashioned - Oxford Languages) - if something is mainly used by old people, like me, then that cap fits. Jul 6 at 10:47

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