What is a more contemporary equivalent of the phrase: "tell it to the marines"? One whose intent is to deflect or dismiss a preposterous proposition?

Edited to add a possibility that occurred to me after the original post. "Pull the other one", meaning that you accuse the other of "pulling your leg" with their previous utterance.

3 Answers 3


Tell it to the judge appears to have more recent usages;

(idiomatic) I do not believe what you said.

2012, Bill Crider, Murder of a Beauty Shop Queen: A Dan Rhodes Mystery, page 162:

  • Al slid off Rhodes's back and moved away from him, hands in the air. “I was just being helpful.” “Tell it to the judge,” Rhodes said, and he took off after Frankie.

2011, Steven W. Moore, Her Husband's Crossing:

  • A Man Remembering His Past and His Love for One Woman, page 130:“Wait a minute, you don't understand, I wouldn`t kill my best friend!” Robert continued yelling. “Yeah, yeah, that's what they all say, tell it to the judge.”



Christine Ammer, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, second edition (2013) has this entry for "tell it to the Marines":

tell it to the Marines Go fool someone else because I won't believe that. For example, He's a millionaire? Tell it to the Marines! This term originated among British sailors, who regarded marines as naive and gullible. {c. 1800}

Ammer's description of the sense of the term suggests that "tell it to the judge" isn't an apt updating of the expression—since a judge wouldn't normally be assumed to be more gullible than the speaker (often a police officer). Rather, the police officer is saying, "Save your excuses for the person who has the authority to decide whether you're innocent or guilty; all I'm doing is arresting you."

A more apt updating of "tell it to the marines" would thus be an expression indicating that the speaker isn't as gullible as the other person thinks. A couple of expressions that convey this idea in somewhat more modern terms are

I wasn't born yesterday.


I didn't just fall off a turnip truck.

Regrettably, Ammer doesn't have an entry for the turnip truck expression (the implication of which is that the speaker isn't a naive bumpkin who is new to the city and its ways), but she does have this for "not born yesterday":

not born yesterday More experienced and less naive than one appears to be, as in Don't think you can fool me; I wasn't born yesterday. This term gained currency from the title of Garson Kanin's popular Broadway play, Born Yesterday, which was made into an even more popular film. In both, Judy Holiday played a stereotypical dumb blond, who shows more common sense than her sophisticated acquaintances. {Early 1800s}


A modern version, that doesn't simply replace one noun with another, is talk to the hand.

From Wikipedia:

"Talk to the hand" (or "tell it to the hand") is an English language slang phrase associated with the 1990s. It originated as a sarcastic way of saying one does not want to hear what the person who is speaking is saying.

Note that there is a distinction between the two phrases:

  • In the case of tell it to the marines, you could be saying, "tell it to someone who might believe you."

  • In the case of talk to the hand, you could be saying, "tell it to someone who cares."

Both, however, are a sarcastic response to something someone has said and a way of dismissing them as being irrelevant or talking nonsense.

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