How common is the idiom “no great shakes” in spoken English, especially among native English speakers? Will I sound natural if I use it in general conversation?

  • 2
    It seems to be the motto of many hamburger joints. – Hot Licks Jul 12 at 12:03
  • If you’re not sure, don’t use it. We can’t tell you because we don’t know the context of either intended sentence or audience. – David Jul 12 at 13:18
  • 1
    It used to be very common 30 or 40 years ago in US English. If you used it today, you would be very well understood, and no one would think it was strange, but it doesn't seem to be used very often now. – Isabel Archer Jul 12 at 13:31
  • Thank you so much to all. – Bhaskar Subba Jul 12 at 17:31
  • @IsabelArcher Not just US English, your comment would apply almost exactly to UK English as well. People my age still use it sometimes but younger people (most of the population) do not seem to do so. – BoldBen Jul 12 at 19:45

Its use in 21st century TV would indicate that it's not beyond the ken of the average Joe.

From the TV corpus:

I'm such a ninny, I didn't realize it before. I'll never be able to thank you. Oh, no great shakes. (Roots, Episode #1.2, 2016)

He... he always said he was glad that I was born there because, " being a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court is no great shakes. " (Once Upon a Time, An Untold Story, 2016)

But no writer should be judged on their first effort. I mean, the first draft of my novel was no great shakes. - Sure it's better than this. (Murdoch Mysteries, Shipwreck, 2015)

You know, this manager job is no great shakes but it'll keep me here and, I don't know maybe I can go to night school or something. (ER, Drive, 2004)

A google Ngram comparison shows it to be a bit less common presently than run of the mill, but it's been a pretty steady part of the language for 200 years or so.

enter image description here

Looks like you'll be safe using it as long as it fits the context.

| improve this answer | |
  • In the UK the term is used slightly differently, we use it to mean that someone, usually oneself, does not have great competancy in something. We would say, for instance, "I'm no great shakes at ballroom dancing" – BoldBen Jul 12 at 19:49

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.