Glossary Home Idioms

A dime a dozen

“A dime a dozen” refers to something that’s so common and plentiful that it’s practically worthless.

“A dime a dozen” is a commonly used phrase throughout English speaking communities. It refers to something that’s easily and cheaply acquired and that, in the long run, doesn’t have much value. Today, the phrase is used regularly, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who comes upon it is going to immediately understand what it means. This is often the case with idioms, even if the listener is a life-long English speaker. There are so many, and a great portion of those are impossible to understand based on their words alone. 

A dime a dozen meaning


Meaning of “A dime a dozen” 

“A dime a dozen” refers to something that’s so common and plentiful that it’s practically worthless. Something that is “a dime a dozen” is easy to acquire in addition to being cheap. The phrase is commonly used throughout the United States, but it isn’t always simple to understand, especially due to the wide variety of contexts in which it can be used. Interestingly, as described below, the phrase did not always mean what it does today. This is not uncommon for idioms and proverbs. 


When to Use “A dime a dozen” 

“A dime a dozen” can be used in a wide variety of situations depending on what one perceives as common and without much value. As is often this case, this phrase is dependent on the speaker’s perception of the world; therefore, someone might refer to something as “a dime a dozen” that another person never would. 

“A dime a dozen” can also be used in different kinds of companies. It’s used more easily among friends and family members with whom one speaks openly and doesn’t need to worry about impressing or remaining professional. It should be noted that although idioms are often inappropriate for professional settings, it’s easy to imagine how this phrase might be used in a more formal setting, such as a business meeting. One colleague might use the phrase to note the common nature of the product they’re considering acquiring or perhaps even of a skill set an employer is seeking. 


Example Sentences with “A dime a dozen”  

  • Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. His skills are about a dime a dozen. 
  • I thought I was going to have trouble finding her that gift she asked for, but it turned out it’s a dime a dozen! 
  • If only he’d chose something that was a dime a dozen rather than these expensive, rare shirts I always have to buy him. 
  • She asked her father what he wanted from the grocery store and was relieved when it was only eggs. They’re luckily a dime a dozen. 


Why Do Writers Use “A dime a dozen?” 

Writers use “a dime a dozen” in the same ways and for the same reasons as anyone speaking the phrase aloud. Idioms and proverbs, especially ones that are native to a particular region and reveal something about the speaker and those who understand and respond to the phrase, are often a good way to detail a person’s like and the way they understand the world. If a character uses an interesting and unusual idiom that the reader has never heard before, it might tell them that the region they are from is secluded and rarely in the literary spotlight. 

Alternatively, if a character uses a phrase like “a dime a dozen,” that is so widely used, it reveals to the reader that they too share the same understanding of the world. They were raised in a similar way, with similar media around them. It should be noted that although idioms and proverbs are helpful in some instances, they can clutter a section of dialogue or even make it harder or impossible to understand. 


Origins of “A dime a dozen”  

“A dime a dozen” is an interesting idiom in that the word “dime” helps date this specific version of the phrase. The “dime” is a unit of U.S. currency, a small coin, that is work one-tenth of a dollar or ten cents. The dime was minted in the United States for the first time in 1796. This means that the phrase, at least the one in which the word “dime” was used, could not have dated from before then. It is important to note that idioms and proverbs often evolve over time. This means that the phrase might’ve had a prior version, one that used another unit of currency or a different metaphor altogether. 

When the phrase was first used in the United States, it appeared in advertisements that suggested that egg, apples, and other small food products, cost “a dime a dozen.” For buyers, this meant that they were getting a great deal—one dime for a dozen eggs, etc. As time passed and the value of money changed, the phrase changed as well. Today, the phrase refers to something that’s almost worthless due to its commonness. The phrase was first used in this way in 1930. 


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