Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Episode 53: Dime A Dozen Transcript

Click on “Read More” for the full transcript.

We used Temi to auto transcribe this, then Dan went through and checked it based on the show notes. He tried really hard on it, but this kind of stuff isn't his specialty. So if you notice anything confusing, please comment on this post so Dan can look at it and clarify anything.

Shauna:                               00:00                    Welcome to Bunny trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. I'm Shauna Harrison
Dan:                                     00:05                    and I'm Dan Pugh. Each week we delve into the origin and history of an idiom or other turn of phrase and discuss how it's been used over time. Sometimes I feel like podcasts are a dime a dozen. Uh, there are just so many of them in the market and I wonder how someone could ever know like what shows are out there and how to find them. But then I remembered that podcast listeners and especially our podcast listeners are amazing and definitely not a dime a dozen, but are in fact worth so much more. And if you haven't guessed it yet, I want to talk about the phrase dime a dozen.
Shauna:                               00:37                    Hey, I like it.
Dan:                                     00:39                    According to the Oxford English dictionary at dime a dozen means "so plentiful as to be almost worthless". As an example, one might say that on social media, angry people are a dime a dozen because you can get them everywhere. And since they are so common, they're worthless. So this is an interesting idiom because it's essentially a saying that something is worthless. But before it became an idiom, it was a popular way of describing just a cost of goods. So it wasn't necessarily that it was a good deal beforehand. But we definitely look back on it and think, oh, a dime for 12 of the thing is a good deal. And we'll see some examples of where sometimes it's a good deal, sometimes it's not
New Speaker:                    01:20                    okay.
Dan:                                     01:20                    But it was a literal phrase that then became a figurative phrase.
Shauna:                               01:25                    Gotcha.
Dan:                                     01:25                    And I use literal and figurative in the historical context, not In the fact that they can both mean literal or figurative anymore.
Shauna:                               01:33                    Gotcha. That's kind of cool. Like, so is there a time frame that a dime paid for a dozen of things?
Dan:                                     01:39                    Yes, absolutely. For a very long timeframe. Well, not long word wise, but long human for a whole human lifespan. Okay. All right. So before we jump into that, first, I want to say that a dime has met one 10th of something since the late 13 hundreds like in this phrase from 1377 by William Langland in the vision of William Concerning Piers Plowman and he says, "take her lands you lords and let him live by dimes". So he's using dimes here, meaning a 10th of a thing and a 10th also another a 10th was also a tithe as well. So, um, there's also some, some of that same background in the word, but uh, and their, uh, William Langland is not the only one using it that way. John Wycliffe and Thomas Wright were both writing about dime in the same way as a a 10th of something in the late 13 hundreds. Gotcha. So there are some, some good examples of there, but it wasn't until the coinage act of 1792 that we started seeing the dime as a currency in the United States. Ah, it's a 10 cent coin. One 10th of a U.S. Dollar labeled formally as 'one dime'. Interestingly, the first known proposal for a decimal based coinage system in the United States was made in 1783 by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and David Rittenhouse.
Shauna:                               02:59                    Can I, Hey, can I say those guys like knew what they were talking about a little bit?
Dan:                                     03:05                    Well, a couple of them did for sure. Yeah. Yeah, that's fair. So Hamilton, the nation's first secretary of the Treasury, as I think everyone these days know, recommended the issuance of six such coins in 1791 in a report to Congress among the six was a silver coin, which he says, "which shall be in weight and value one 10th part of a silver unit or dollar." Gotcha. And so the, the dimes were minted for circulation, but then they didn't appear until 1796 due to a lack of demand for the coin and production problems that the US Mint.
Shauna:                               03:39                    Oh, is that Kinda like, we don't need the a thousand dollar bills right now or something like
Dan:                                     03:43                    they were, oh yeah. Somewhat. But they also like, you know, had some production problems too. Yeah. As far as I can tell, the u s is the only country that actually has a dime. Uh, most places call it a 10 cent piece or something similar. And I always thought Canada had a dime. Uh, but according to the Royal Canadian mint, the official national term of the coin is 10 cent piece. Though in practice, the term dime still predominates. Yeah. Uh, another interesting fact that Canadian dime is magnetic due to its distinct metal composition.
Shauna:                               04:16                    Ah, dude, I didn't know that. That's kind of crazy. Cool.
Dan:                                     04:23                    I also, I didn't know that. Alright, so let's move on to dime a dozen, which in the 18 hundreds was used to literally mean paying a dime to get a dozen of something. In the Davenport gazette in October 19th, 1848, this is out of Scott County, Iowa. Uh, and I'm going to read a piece. So just as background, the author is a Floridian and he wrote a letter to the editor, to his friends in Iowa, and he was mentioning how Louisiana, where he was traveling when he wrote the letter was dependent on the north for many things and he was waxing poetic regarding the cost of certain foods. "But after all, it is greatly dependent on the north. For the necessaries of life from Vince is drawn all her flour, beef, pork, potatoes, and even the apples for which we would gladly exchange three for one are here dear than oranges, the ladder retail at five for a dime, but a good Pippin will bring half a dime. Eggs are cheap at 30 cents and fowls at $2 50 per dozen. Yesterday I heard a man asking a dime a dozen for onions. Think of that. Ye farmers of Iowa, a dime a dozen for onions! Those I saw looked very much as though they grew in Hawkeye soil. Still, you must not suppose that these prices range throughout the whole catalog of edibles. It's only for the imported ones."
Shauna:                               05:39                    Okay, nice. Like I can not believe it. A dime a dozen!
Dan:                                     05:44                    Yeah, exactly. So he's not talking about being a good deal, although, you know, we tend to think of that historically cause we look back and we think, oh 12 something for a dime. That's cool. But that's not necessarily the case. Some things were a dime a dozen and others were not. And a dime a dozen was just an easy way to sell stuff. And so we see here as an example that, uh, onions he thought shouldn't be that much, uh, in Louisiana because he's not used to having to pay that much for them. In this case, it's being used literally, but it's not necessarily positively, um, in the Rock Island Argus out of rock island, Illinois. And this is October 16th, 1903. And they talk about dimes making dollars here. "So if you want dollars, uh, save your times by buying your groceries at Anderson brothers." Uh, and then just as just an idea of some things you could get in 1903 for a dime, one can best tomatoes, one can best new pack ps one can pink salmon, two cans, good pork and beans, one can sardines in pure olive oil, one pound Fancy Carolina head rice. You could get two packages of best cornstarch hour. You can get one dozen parlor matches, which is kind of cool. You can get one doesn't new Harland herring for two dimes. Wow. But anyway, so that's just an idea of like, you know, in the 90s and early 19 hundreds is 19 three what things would cost for a dime. So you see parlor matches where literally a dime a dozen right here at that point.
Shauna:                               07:10                    Well, dime a dozen, you know, it would be a lot easier and make so much more sense to have this, um, you know, base 10 uh, monetary system. If we weren't charging tax on everything, it'd be a lot easier to just say, okay, it's 5 cents or it's 10 cents. Like, if you're actually just giving the dime, like I bet it was easier for them to have prices that were like at set at a, you know, one of those points.
Dan:                                     07:36                    Um, that would be true, not to get into economic theory too much, but they could also just take the cost of the tax and then charge it so that it even once taxes involved, it's a 5 cents or $5 or whatever. But that, uh, that's a little bit more difficult to do because Americans like sales plus we like things to be something 99, so.
Shauna:                               07:59                    Yeah, We do.
Dan:                                     08:00                    $4.99 is better than $5 every day of the week. Absolutely. If you're an American anyway, uh, the Hopkinsville Kentucky in this is out of Hopkinsville Kentucky if you hadn't guessed a, and this is in 17, this is, sorry, 1914 September 3rd "homegrown cantaloupes are selling at a dime a dozen it, Winchester, Kentucky and 40 pound watermelons sell at 10 cents each." Wow. It's actually, it was pretty common the late mid to late 18 hundreds and even throughout the early and mid 19 hundreds. Uh, but by World War Two, there weren't too many things that actually cost a dime a dozen anymore.
Dan:                                     08:36                    So it seems logical that this usage, the literal usage would start to fall out of favor. Yeah. But by that time, the literal and figurative meanings had been contemporaries for some 50 years. Oh Wow. So at first we see the phrase in a quasi figurative way with the prefix of I wouldn't pay, or they aren't worth, a dime a dozen. This is from the Cook County Herald out of Minnesota, February 29th, 1896. And this is in a, a piece called a Pal in Petticoat by Hanwell Briggs. "She said she didn't mind it. I asked her a few questions about the people. She said she could get on all right with Mr Winthrop. And she was on very good terms with Mrs Winthrope, but she wouldn't give a dime a dozen for the servants. For one thing. She didn't believe they kept a proper lookout on the place while they were wasting their time and flirting and gaddling a burglar could get in at almost any moment. "
Dan:                                     09:33                    We have another example. This was in 1896 we have another example of it being used figuratively in the much the same way in the August 23rd, 1900 edition of the Hutchinson Gazzette out of Hutchinson, Kansas. "Thank you for nothing. Replied Marie Antoinette disdainfully. I wouldn't take them if they were sold at a dime a dozen. I'm told that Hurley's generally known as early pearly because he drinks and Bulper known as bullpup because he's so hideous." She uh, was talking to her father about how she did not want either of the men he had suggested she should marry. I mean, you know, oh, I, I don't disagree with her. I might disagree with her for different reasons that she brought up. Just her in general. But generally that's fine. So here in 1922 we see another example of this, this is the June 2nd version. This is out of the Lake County Times, which is Hammond, Indiana. And this is from a article called "Says Philly has a real ball team" by David J. Walsh. He was the international news service sports editor. This is New York June 2nd "Although skeptics still abound in plentiful numbers, the Philadelphia athletics can take consolation from the fact that they have sold themselves to one man whose opinions are worth slightly more than a dime a dozen. He is Colonel TL Houston, vice president of the New York Yankees who will tell any buttonhole maker in the audience that the athletics are a ball club."
Dan:                                     11:01                    It makes me laugh. I'm not a huge fan of the Yankees, so I love anytime somebody is making fun of them. In this case, he's uh, clearly facetiously saying that his opinions are only slightly worth more than a dime. It doesn't tell us. Right. Uh, we, we see a couple of other examples here. We're uh, in the late 1920s with phrases attached to sports as well. Just like that one was a in the evening star out of Washington DC, August 26, 1928. "None of the present crop attractive. Boxers for awhile at least we'll have to battle on percentage basis" by sparrow McGann. And one of the statements he makes in here is "you can have your Riskos, Sharkeys, Heeneys ,Paaolinos, and Hansens and the fans will not give you a dime a dozen for the lot. Bring on the young man with the punch."
Shauna:                               11:46                    Oh, I don't know what that means.
Dan:                                     11:50                    Like, uh, he's basically saying that all of these guys are old boxers and nobody wants them anymore. He wants to, he wants to bring on the young guy that can hit.
Shauna:                               12:00                    Okay. I mean, I like, I caught that part, that bring on the young man with the punch. I just didn't know what the Heeney and
Dan:                                     12:05                    Those are names like it's Risko and it's Sharkey
Shauna:                               12:11                    Gotcha, there were probably popular boxers at the time. And I'm just not, I just am not aware of who they are. Yeah. Gotcha. I'm following, I see.
Dan:                                     12:20                    So by 1929, we start seeing the phrase Dime a dozen with no need for a prefix. This is also in the evening star, July 25th, 1929 this is from a piece called the sidewalks of Washington by Thornton Fisher. He says "the subject is too deep for this column. Every now and then. Some independent soul emits complaint about the age of standardization, if we were not standardized automobiles would still be the rich man's toy instead of selling for a dime a dozen." So in this case, he is making the claim that automobiles are so cheap now that they're a dime a dozen, which of course automobiles have never been a dime a dozen, but this is what he's pointing at. Gotcha. So like everybody and actually essentially, right. And the sidewalks of Washington. It was a series of pieces published in the evening Star newspaper. I found a couple other instances of Thornton Fisher using dime a dozen metaphorically, uh, later in articles in 1928 and 1929 as well. Another article here also from, um, 1929 in the August 25th edition of the same evening star, Washington DC. This is by Feg Murray. And here he's talking much like we were talking in 1928 about old boxers.
Dan:                                     13:30                    Uh, and so he says, "but of the dime-a-dozen heavyweights who have been wearing the public with their tiresome bouts for the past year and a half, the Sharkies, Stribling's, Maloneys, Heeneys, Paulinos, Riskos and so on. Schmeling is an unquestionably the best. Perhaps Tommy Loughtan could beat him, but perhaps not. "
Dan:                                     13:50                    Hmm. So then I definitely, as I found this stuff, I started wondering like, you know, is there a boxing component to this? But now it doesn't appear to be, they just adopted it like everybody else in boxing was a very popular sport at the time.
Shauna:                               14:04                    I do think it's an interesting though. It's like they're wearing the public with their tiresome bouts and I'm like, okay, so are they just like boring to watch? Cause they're just old hat, like
Dan:                                     14:14                    theres a lot of hugging, probably a lot of hugging going on, you know, as they get worn up pretty quick.
Shauna:                               14:20                    But yeah, I gotcha. S
Dan:                                     14:21                    o the first time we see it in a book and not in a newspaper is actually in 1930 by in a book by Courtney Terrett called Only Saps Work: A Ballyhoo for Racketeering. This was published by the New York vanguard press and that she's in this, she says "these are mere dime a doesn't rackets compared with the truly big time stock market. Swindells" okay. I want to put that one out there because this is when the Oxford English dictionary says that this phrase is first attested. So because of that, every site on the Internet also says, this phrase started in 1930. I'll talk a little bit more about that, but let me just point out that's not true. Clearly we found, we found very many for almost 40 years before this. That's crazy. There was an article in 1934 in the, um, in the funnies, I guess, uh, the comics in the evening star of Washington DC.
Dan:                                     15:16                    This is May 2nd in the comic Little Orphan Annie and uh, Eh, he says the, the Alderman is yelling at a principal. He says, "get this straight fellow. I can get school principals for a dime a dozen to fill your job." So Alderman is clearly mad and trying to throw his weight around and yell, honey, these a dime a dozen in there. Jeez, that's a see it, uh, in the Midland journal out of the rising sun, Maryland, this is October 7th, 1938, where, uh, Dr. George D Berkhoff is a professor of mathematics at Harvard and uh, he notes that "as the doctor sees it, mathematicians won't be worth a dime a dozen if he's highly gifted men keep on coming".
Dan:                                     15:57                    In the November 7th, 1944 edition of a newspaper that I cannot pronounce out of Cleveland, Ohio "en knack oh prav nost?"
Shauna:                               16:08                    I think it's Greek Enakopravnost.
Dan:                                     16:10                    Maybe that sounds great. So this is actually a disturbing story called "the dime a dozen club formed".
Dan:                                     16:18                    And I'm gonna pick and choose the words I use here because a, there's a first lieutenant out of Medford, Oregon who is shown handing out certificates attesting to the kills, 47, of the Japanese forces, although they use a racial slur by members of the dime a dozen club. He promised each man of the unit 10 cents for every dozen Japanese killed, again and other racial slur, a and when the photo was taken, they only lacked one enemy combatant, Again, another racial slur, from having earned their 40 cents for the four dozen, which is really disgusting to me. Um, racial slurs. Yeah, racial slurs aside, uh, which I refuse to read. Obviously the concept of paying a bonus to kill another human just doesn't really sit well with me. But this, I only include this because I very often run across the popular Americans sentiments as told through the newspapers during World War II.
Dan:                                     17:18                    And that has never really set well with me. Um, it was a timeframe when our entire goal was to dehumanize other people so that we could justify killing them. And I'm not trying to make too much of a comment on war, a little bit, but not a lot of, bit. More I want to make a comment on the dangers of dehumanizing other humans. Anyway, let's move on. Okay. So I see the phrase in literal use when things were frequently sold at the cost of a dime for a dozen of them, and a figurative use has sprung up as a contemporary usage in the late 18 hundreds and early 19 hundreds but as prices kept rising and virtually nothing, cost a dime a dozen anymore, the literal use started to fall off. But of course we continue to see the figurative use in many ways today and more on that in a minute. But first...
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Dan:                                     18:51                    So I want to share a couple of, uh, modern examples here of the use of dime a dozen, like in this song from the 1982 west in performance. That's a London of Snoopy! The musical.
Shauna:                               19:04                    Ah, Snoopy the musical! Cool.
Dan:                                     19:06                    Right? Yeah. So the song's called dime a dozen and it Lucy sings:Dime a Dozen! Special today! A Dime a Dozen! Take him away! Dime a Dozen, any takers? Okay, what's say, I'll make it a "baker's"! Thirteen for a tenth of a dollar, Let's go, I'll throw in a collar! For every beagle you buy Dime a Dozen Unlimited supply!
Dan:                                     19:09                    And Snoopy, in reprose says: Dime a Dozen, cheap as they come Dime a Dozen, face it, old chum Bargain basement, that's my speed, yeah Cut break, tin plate, economy breed, yeah This canine is out-canined French poodle, it boggles the mind! No knock-em-dead pedigree for me Dime a Dozen is all I'll ever be
Shauna:                               19:50                    Aw, snoopy. I love you.
Dan:                                     19:55                    Uh, and then I'm not going to make it any better here. So, um, let me read a book, um, called a dime a dozen. This is by Nikki Grimes and it was in October, 1998 and this is a collection of poems about African American children growing up in New York. And here's one from the book and a from her website, . That's N I K K I N G R I M E S dot com. And I highly recommend you check this out. This woman's a national treasure. You should follow her on Twitter as well. Writers are a dime a dozen... I heard those words one time too many from my own mother... But my heart scripted one phrase truer: Someday she'll be/ proud To shout out loud My daughter/ the Writer
Shauna:                               20:40                    Okay. That's hitting me in the feels.
Dan:                                     20:42                    I know, right?
Shauna:                               20:43                    Like I said, listen Nikki, I'm proud of you. That's Beautiful.
Dan:                                     20:51                    I went, uh, I want it. So when we were researching this, I went to go, cause she had a Twitter thing on her account, so on our website. And so I clicked on it and found it and then, you know, basically just told everybody to go follow her. She was very, she was very sweet about it too. She, she looked really nice.
Shauna:                               21:07                    No, that's awesome. Yeah. Well that's just that one short snippet there is beautiful. So I am interested in reading more of her work.
Dan:                                     21:16                    Yeah, and she, I mean, she has many other books out there too, so, and they all look pretty awesome. There's another movie I want to use a dime a dozen from 2016 in the late 1940s detective Rick Morrison is down on his luck. He's being evicted from his home. He's got no cases to investigate, no leads on any other work and worse, he's out of Bourbon.
Shauna:                               21:38                    Man, All the luck. So little noir or somethingish going on there.
Dan:                                     21:44                    Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, so I love it. I do get a kick out of finding things in the research that no one else seems to have found, or at least as reported on and of course this week was just another example of that. As most popular websites or even most websites at all mentioned the Oxford English dictionary. First attestation of the figurative phrase dime a dozen to be 1930 as I mentioned earlier, but thanks to the United States Library of Congress's free, chronically in America project. I was able to find numerous examples of the phrase used figuratively as far back as 1896 and I think this is a testament to two really important points. One, you should always do your own research. Don't take somebody else's word for it. Don't even take my word for it. Of course we cited our sources and where we found it, but you can go check that out too. There are many free and also low cost options, so just don't, don't use anything as an excuse. You have like the sum of human knowledge and history at your fingertips. You should use it.
Shauna:                               22:41                    Absolutely needs to be a tee shirt, like do your own research.
Dan:                                     22:47                    Well now how I hang on, I mean like that's part of the problem with the whole vaccine debate, which isn't a debate. That's one of the reason with any anti-vaxxers is that they think they're doing their own research but they're not ready. There's a line in there. You definitely have access to stuff. So do your own research and ask questions. It's probably a better way to put that. Do your research, ask questions and then listen to answers. All right, so the other thing that I think is really important to hear is that as a society we have to support the preservation of our recorded knowledge. And one way to do that is by learning about the places and projects dedicated to that cause. So here are a couple, the association for library collections and technical services. This is part of the American Library Association. There's also project Gutenberg, which is the oldest digital library, which was founded in 1971 a and then there's also the Chronicling America project, which is part of the library of Congress.
Dan:                                     23:41                    So those are just some of the projects taking place in the United States. We have listeners in over 25 countries. So we want to know what you are doing in other countries to help preserve works like books, newspapers, and oral histories. If this is my... this is my, a challenge to you listeners. Hit us up on Twitter or on our website or on Patreon a wherever it makes the most sense. We're on Facebook too, but I don't get on there very often cause it's a silly place. But
Shauna:                               24:12                    Tis a silly place (in a British accent)
Dan:                                     24:12                    Twitter, Twitter or Patreon or our website is best let us know what's happening in your country and some of the amazing projects that are out there that are helping to preserve books and newspapers and oral histories, uh, for, for future generations to do things like what we're doing, where we can read about that and learn about how, uh, how people in the past used words and phrases and many other things.
Dan:                                     24:36                    Uh, I think it's a, it's a great, great, great story. So I want to hear from you about how things are happening and if you have other examples. The United States, that's great too. I just want to hear from other countries as well. Well. That about wraps us up for today. Thanks for joining us. Uh, we are excited to say that we recently were added on Pandora, so you should go check us out there. Uh, click on that, you know, collect button, uh, as you're collecting the podcasts that you listen to on Pandora and make sure to hit thumbs up on a couple of your favorite episodes.
Shauna:                               25:04                    If you have a suggestion for an idiom or another turn of phrase, or if you just want to chat, you can of course catch us on social media, mostly on Twitter, @bunnytrailspod or on Patreon at Um, as Dan mentioned, we're also on Facebook and Instagram, uh, less frequently, but uh, but we are there so you can get copies of our transcripts, listen to the episodes and get links to everywhere. We are at Thanks again for joining us. We'll talk to you again next week. And until then, remember,
Together:                           25:37                    words belong to their users.

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