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 this (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 '18 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 '18 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 '18 at 13:02

You are correct!

the thick end of OED

It is a British idiom. Oxford dictionary 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.


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