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("throw it in the pile" or "just throw it on the pile" are also acceptable variants)

I have seen this expression being used a lot. Based on context and intuition, I figured it has an idiomatic meaning, something like this. "It" refers something that should normally be significant, but this idiom is saying that we already have so many of things like "it" that "it" is no longer important. Here, "it" can refer to any kinds of thing, physical objects, facts, abstract concepts...

I tried searching around, but all I get is a whole bunch of different places that use the same expression. This affirms the fact that this is a common idiom, but make it hard to figure out the source.

I tried to search on the idiom dictionary but got nothing.

So does anyone know the source for this? Also, is my interpretation of the phrase correct? Thank you.

(I have also seen visual gags invoking this idiom as well: a character in movie or cartoon casually throw something valuable - like gold, or medal - into a big pile of similar stuff)

You can find plenty of examples by just searching for the phrase, but here is a random webpage just to make it concrete: https://bookmachine.org/2012/04/05/pottermore-sells-1-million-in-three-days-rowling-instructs-minions-just-throw-it-on-the-pile/

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  • I can’t find the it on the dictionary either. My best guess is that the meaning is sort of “don’t worry about it.”
    – user 66974
    Jan 30, 2021 at 10:32
  • If you saw my desk you'd understand.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 1, 2021 at 13:40
  • I have heard this countless times but never as an idiom. When cleaning house, doing laundry, moving stuff around in a house, cleaning up a garden. The it refers to whatever you have in your hand: a dirty rag, dirty clothes, etc.
    – Lambie
    Apr 19, 2021 at 19:51

2 Answers 2

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In the days before digital working, office desks might have a pile (or tray) of incoming documents to be attended to. Similarly, in workplaces such (for example) repair workshops, there might be a pile of items awaiting repair. In both cases, new documents or items that arrived would be added to the pile. The worker might say to the person delivering a new item “Just put it on the pile”, implying that there are already many such items and that the new one is merely a small addition that must wait its turn.

By analogy, your interpretation is correct. The source of the saying lies long ago and, having its origin in the workplace as above, is probably unidentifiable.

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  • So it looks like it is idiomatic, but not an idiom.
    – user 66974
    Jan 30, 2021 at 10:39
  • Idioms have to be 'idiomatic' in the default sense ('in general use and generally accepted by native speakers') but 'The young people who have just received their exam results fall into two categories. The windfall, as always, has been given to those who, according to the profiling, are most likely to be future Tory voters. The rest of them have been thrown on the pile.' [Joanne Harris, Twitter, Aug 15, 2020] is a metaphorical usage, a fairly transparent idiom. Jan 30, 2021 at 12:23
  • An example using semi-referential 'it': '... The pain was dulled by the general misery of his existence. “Everything was kind of really ‘meh’ already, it was kind of one more thing,” he said. “I just threw it on the pile and dealt with it all.” Also on the pile: weight gain....' [Tanner Zurkoski, The Star] Jan 30, 2021 at 12:27
  • @user 66974 , Anton: Sorry; the above in response to the 'comment'. Jan 30, 2021 at 16:00
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The most relevant definition (OED) for idiom gives “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from the meanings of the individual words.”

The problem is that "throw it on the pile" is not an idiom – it is simply that “the pile” is real or figurative.

OED:

Pile (n.) I. A heap, stack, or mass.

1a. A heap or stack of things (of considerable height) laid or lying on one another. Also figurative.

1530 J. Palsgrave Lesclarcissement 254/1 Pyle of clothes or any other heape, pille.

1567 A. Golding tr. J. Calvin Little Bk. conc. Offences f. 100v Wherupon then is builded suche a pile of Offences? [<-figurative]

And in the even more general sense:

d. Any large group or collection of things (without reference to height). Now colloquial: (in singular and plural) a large quantity, amount, or number.

1596 T. Nashe Haue with you to Saffron-Walden sig. G2 I never met with the like contrived pile of pure English. O it is devine and most admirable, & so far beyond all that ever he published heretofore.

1992 Great Lakes Fisherman Jan. 22/1 I saved a pile of time and trouble.

The figurative use is thus a common part of the language and “just throw it on the pile” is unremarkable.

The pile refers the reader/listener to a pile that he is aware of, i.e. the pile of similar or discarded items.

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  • A decent work looking at idioms (see for instance the classic 'Fixed expressions and idioms in English: A corpus-based approach' by Rosamund Moon) will discuss both the ill-definedness of the term 'idiom' and the general acceptance that there is a gradience between opaque and near-transparent idioms. Any fixed expression used with even a slight metaphorical broadening is being used as an idiom. 'Tom has just been thrown on the pile' is an idiom. Jan 30, 2021 at 12:17
  • @EdwinAshworth The "Tom" example will not run. The question refers to "it", not Tom. The essence of the question is the meaning in the example given. People are too ready to claim things as "idioms". Throw, it, and pile, are all readily understandable.
    – Greybeard
    Jan 30, 2021 at 23:04
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    'Throw it on the pile,' in 'Pottermore sells £1 million in three days; Rowling instructs minions "[J]ust throw it on the pile," ’ (OP's linked article) obviously involves a figurative usage (and perhaps an insulting one). Moon (a recognised authority on the subject) discusses the ill-definedness of 'idiom' at great length, listing the stipulating definitions used by various grammarians working in the field, and selects 'a fixed expression involving a semi-transparent or opaque metaphor' as her working definition. // If OED has a similar definition, omitting it would be misquoting. Jan 31, 2021 at 15:13
  • Note you are quoting 3 different sense-defs because you are yourself not sure which one to select
    – vectory
    Jan 31, 2021 at 19:46

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