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.
Synonyms / Similar: bought for a song, run of the mill
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 the phrase’s origin must have happened during or after that year. From what I’ve seen, this phrase probably originated during the 1800s. I say this because during this century, various newspapers had advertisements that were selling different foods for the literal price of a dime a dozen.
For example, some of the foods being sold at that price (based on the newspapers I saw) were eggs, oranges, peaches, and others. Of course, the dime was worth more back then compared to its value today, but even so, it sounds like people were getting a nice deal. 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.”
Okay, so when did this phrase start to be used with its figurative meaning of “something that’s very common and/or of small worth”? It looks like this happened sometime around the 1930s, or at least, that is the earliest I could find it in print being used in a such a manner. For example, it’s used figuratively in 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.’ “
Another example of this expression with its figurative usage 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 a example of how this phrase can be used in a sentence:
- Hugs were a dime a dozen at the family reunion I went to; everyone was so happy to see each other.
- The clothing store near me is having a big discount, so these dress shirts I bought for a song.
Tip: There are plenty more common English phrases on here to learn about, hundreds of them, in fact! To find them, use the letters at the top.