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What does the word "rich" mean in the reactionary sarcastic phrase "That's rich!" (Google shows 67M hits).

I take it to mean "rich" as in "rich in irony". What it is the source of the phrase and how long has it been used?

EDIT:

It looks like it is rich as in a rich source of entertainment or delight.

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  • What does "reactionary" mean in your question?
    – GEdgar
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 16:07

6 Answers 6

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According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the sense of "entertaining, amusing" is recorded from 1760, so it's been around for a long, long time.

Source.

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  • 4
    But "That's rich" means neither "that's amusing" nor its opposite "that's boring", so this definition fits neither the literal nor the sarcastic interpretation of the phrase. What am I missing?
    – Marthaª
    Commented Nov 9, 2010 at 22:31
  • 3
    Actually, "that's rich" does generally mean amusing. It's a sarcastic phrase in which you are saying their fallacy has amused you. Taking Acorn's example: I'm greedy? That's a bit rich, coming from you! - this implies that you are amused the person would find you greedy.
    – stevendesu
    Commented Nov 14, 2010 at 18:12
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    @steven_desu: so rich, as in rich like a cream puff, meaning it was amusing and sweet the way a rich dessert will hit you and make you exclaim: 'that's rich!' ? Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 21:46
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I'm familiar with the word being used in the phrase "That's a bit rich coming from you", here's a definition I found:

http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/That%27s+rich!

That's (a bit) rich!

something that you say when someone criticizes you to show that you do not think they are being fair because they are as bad as you. "I'm greedy? That's a bit rich, coming from you!"

Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed.

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  • Do you perhaps intend to leave a link? Commented Nov 9, 2010 at 23:35
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    @Jared Updike,@Acorn: idioms.thefreedictionary.com/That%27s+rich!
    – Lie Ryan
    Commented Nov 10, 2010 at 9:51
  • Oops, yes I did mean to include a link. The definition originally comes from Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed.
    – Acorn
    Commented Nov 10, 2010 at 18:00
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UK national here, entirely speculating but perhaps it refers to something tasting rich, but used ironically so as to make it synonymous with distasteful.

So it might be used to mark offence that something said was harsh, or rude.

From experience it is most often used in this way in response to perceived hypocritical statements.

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Rich (adj.)

Colloquial. Highly entertaining or amusing; preposterous, outrageous (esp. in a bit rich). Frequently in that's rich!: expressing ironic amusement or indignation at something.

1675 Duke of Buckingham Rehearsal (ed. 3) i. 6 This is one of the richest Stories, Mr. Bayes, that ever I heard of.
...
1936 N. Coward To-night at 8.30 II. 40 Me, grumble! I like that, I'm sure. That's rich, that is.

1977 J. Anderson Appearance of Evil i. 6 ‘You have experienced a spontaneous demonstration of disapproval..at your last recital.’ ‘Spontaneous! That's rich.’

1996 Minx Nov. 139/3 We were classed as a ‘security risk’, which was a bit rich, considering we'd handed ourselves in. (OED)

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Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" begins with "Isn't it rich?", so I date it to 1973. Just kidding, of course, but it is a particularly good use of it with the "rich in irony" meaning given the context it is sung in.

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"Rich to you" can be used as a comeback to "rich coming from you". For instance:

Person 1: That's rich coming from you.

Person 2: Ha! Rich to you too.

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