I found the phrase, “the message is the same every time, almost down to the word” in the article titled “As debates loom, Romney grasps for a closing argument” appearing in October 1st Time magazine.
The article reports that everywhere he goes lately, President Obama begins his stump speech with a story about a four-year-old boy named Samm. When Samm’s parents asked their son if he recognized the leader of the free world, he did. “What does Barack Obama do?” they asked Sammy, and Sammy replies: “He approves this message.” Then the writer follows:
“It’s a funny little ice-breaker. But it’s also a bridge to the message itself, which is that Obama wants to emphasize the middle class as the foundation of a strong economy, whereas Romney’s top-down economics benefits the rich. The message is the same every time, almost down to the word.”
From the context, I guessed “almost down to the word” is synonymous with “almost verbatim.” But I don’t find “down to the word” in any of Cambridge, Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionary as an idiom, though they register “down to earth,” “down to the wire,” “down to the present day,”and “down to there.”
On the other hand, Google Ngram registers “down to the word.” It shows usage of this phrase existed ever since before 1840, but its currency has been declining sharply after peaking during 1860 to 1920.
Is my understanding of “down to the word” as synonymous with “verbatim” right? Is “down to the word” an idiom, or a simple set of words. Is it still a popular phrase , or pretty old-fashioned expression because I can’t find it in any dictionaries I’ve checked?