When I read the phrase

The biggest thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone

I interpreted it to imply that the first occurrence of iPhone happened to itself -- that is,

the first iPhone happened to iPhone.

Is this the correct interpretation, or are there any alternatives that I am missing?

If this is the only interpretation, assuming the happen to phrase is being used to mean have a significant impact on, how does the notion of iPhone happening to itself make any sense (if at all)?

  • I also think it is a reference to the phones bigger screen and overall size.
    – user46324
    Jun 19, 2013 at 6:08

1 Answer 1


They are hyperbolizing :-).

They are saying that the new iPhone is great (which they will of course say) and that the new one is the best thing that has ever happened in "the iPhone world" since the first version was released. That is, while many people may have produced many great apps, and while iPhone 1, 2, 3 & 4 were no doubt great, the new iPhone 5 is far better than any of the rest of them.

It does NOT mean "that the first occurrence of iPhone happened to itself" or that "the first iPhone happened to iPhone."

The phrase "the greatest thing to happen [to] since ..." is a standard phrase that means that something is "extremely marvellous" or modern or innovative. The literal meaning is related to this meaning but not what the users ears/brain are intended to hear. ie the expression is not analysed or parsed - it just conveys the same standardised meaning any time that it is heard.

A once common variant was "The greatest thing to happen since sliced bread".
Up until about the 1950's bread was almost invariably sold as an unsliced loaf. Pre-sliced represented a radical change in usability and standardisation of slice size and was used as a means of conveying new / marvellous / innovative / fantastic ...modern.

Using Google's Ngram Viewer I compared the frequency in Google Books of the segments -

  • greatest thing since sliced bread

  • greatest thing

  • sliced bread

The result was "interesting".
It may be that the renewed and ongoing increase in "sliced bread" references may be due to some late 1950's wit having coined the GTSSB phrase and as it became the default expression it carried "sliced bread" with it.
Interesting, regardless.

enter image description here

However, if you want the real winner of the "since xxx" stakes but NOT the "greatest thing since" stakes, you are offered for your valued consideration "since Adam". Note that "greatest thing since Adam" hardly registers.

It appears that "sliced bread" and "since Adam" may approximate a zero sum game, but it seems more likely that this is a good demonstration of the old saw "correlation does not prove causality".

enter image description here

But to put things in perspective.

enter image description here

  • and it's also intended to suggest that iPhone itself is the greatest thing that ever happened in its domain and that iPhone is and always has been so far ahead of its competitors that the only thing that can 'happen' to iPhone is iPhone itself. Sep 28, 2012 at 23:57
  • 2
    Sliced bread is a "once-common" variant? I beleive it's still the standard for "greatest thing since" idioms and analogies.
    – J.R.
    Sep 29, 2012 at 0:07
  • 1
    Sadly, the phrase in question is neither about 'the greatest thing since' nor even the idiom itself, as you seem to project. Ad copy is not that amenable to straight-laced literary interpretation! :) Or there'd be no fun.
    – Kris
    Sep 29, 2012 at 5:24
  • @Kris I thought I managed to wander nicely wide of a straight laced interpretation - although some might argue that iPhones and sex may have a closerlinkage than eg either of them and sliced bread. Sep 29, 2012 at 5:41
  • 1
    @Russell: "Since Adam" registers so high because of all the different contexts where it can occur: mostly theology, but references to other individuals, such as Adam Smith and Adam Sandler, as well. "Since this law is of great importance to capitalist production, it may be said to be a mystery whose solution has been the goal of all political economy since Adam Smith..." (Karl Marx). Unfortunately, I think you've diminished your answer by adding these apples-and-oranges Ngrams.
    – J.R.
    Sep 29, 2012 at 14:50

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