Where Did the Phrase “Dime a Dozen” Come From?

Why do we say something's a "dime a dozen" and what does it even mean? Turns out, its meaning has evolved throughout history.

We’ve all heard the phrase “dime a dozen” before. Have you ever thought about where it came from, though? And if means the same thing now as it did in the past? Similar to phrases like “knock on wood“, “cat out of the bag“, “take it with a grain of salt” and “break a leg,” it has interesting origins. Read on to learn why we say this common idiom and where it came from.

What does “dime a dozen” mean?

This idiom means that something is easy to find or obtain. Since it’s easy to find, it doesn’t have a lot of value and is considered cheap or ordinary. Here’s how to use it in sentences:

  • “During apple season, apples around here go for a dime a dozen.”
  • “A liar’s stories are worth a dime a dozen.”

“Dime a dozen” origins

After the dime was made in 1796, people started advertising goods for “a dime a dozen.” This meant you were getting a good deal on products, such as a dozen eggs. Over time, the idiom evolved to mean the opposite. Instead of something being a good deal, it became a phrase to describe something that’s not valuable and easily available. The first known use of it in this context is believed to have occurred in 1930. From there, people picked up on the phrase’s new meaning and started using it in that context.

Synonyms for this phrase include:

  • Cheap
  • Common
  • Usual
  • Ordinary
  • Run of the mill

Another phrase with interesting origins: no worries. Did you know it’s actually an Australianism?

Is “dime a dozen” an insult?

It depends on how you use the phrase—you can use it without malice, after all. Let’s use the examples above to discuss its different uses:

  • “During apple season, apples around here go for a dime a dozen.”

In the case above, you’re saying that apples are common to find during apple season. Now, let’s look at the other example:

  • “A liar’s stories are worth a dime a dozen.”

In this case, you’re saying a liar’s stories are cheap and not valuable. That’s why it’s important to use this phrase in the right context—you wouldn’t want to accidentally insult someone.

Next, learn why we say “spill the beans” and where it came from. Hint: one explanation comes from Ancient Greece!


Kelly Kuehn
Kelly Kuehn is a former editor for Reader’s Digest who covered entertainment, trivia and history. When she’s not working you can find her watching the latest and greatest movies, listening to a true-crime podcast (or two), blasting ‘90s music and hiking with her dog, Ryker, throughout the Finger Lakes.