This phrase is used to describe things that are abundant in quantity and/or very cheap; something that’s easily acquired.
Example: These glass cups might look expensive, but they are a dime a dozen over at the general store. In other words, the glass cups are cheap and readily available at the store.
The Origin Of “A Dime a Dozen”
In the year 1796, the first U.S. dimes were produced for circulation. Thus, I think it’s reasonable to say that this phrase’s origin happened during or sometime after that year. Honestly, from what I’ve read, this phrase probably originated during the 1800s. Why? Because during that time, various food items were being sold for, literally speaking, a dime a dozen.
What kind of foods were sold at that price? Based on several newspapers from this period, these foods included things like eggs, oranges, peaches, and others. Of course, the dime was worth more back then compared to its value today, but regardless, those still sound like great deals to me! Anyways, one of the newspapers that mentioned these kinds of prices was the Galveston Daily News, 1866:
“The San Antonio Ledger says the city is well stocked with peaches at a dime a dozen.”
So when did this phrase get its figurative meaning of ‘something that’s very common and/or of small worth’? It looks like this happened sometime around the 1930s. For example, the earliest I could find it in writing (being used figuratively) is from The Northern Miner newspaper, 1931, where it reads:
“‘Carners,’ the old-timer said, ‘is just an overgrown clown. As for the others–Schaof, Baer, Paulino, Risko, Campolo–they’re nothing but ‘dime a dozen fighters.’ “
And just for kicks, here’s one more example of this expression with its figurative usage. This one comes six years later, from the Sandusky Register, 1937:
“Smiles were a dime a dozen in the Yankee clubhouse. Even Colonel Ruppert, owner of the club, was so stated he went from player to player shaking hands.”
Here is an example of this phrase used in a sentence:
- I was at a family reunion and everyone was so happy to see each other. Hugs were a dime a dozen everywhere you looked.
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