‘A Dime a Dozen’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By
Sophia Merton,
updated on
April 24, 2023

Did someone use the phrase 'a dime a dozen,' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

In short:

  • ‘A dime a dozen’ means that something is basically worthless because it is so common.

What Does 'A Dime a Dozen' Mean?

‘A dime a dozen’ is an idiom that means that something is so common that it is practically worthless. When you think about the phrase literally, it’s like saying that you can buy twelve of something for only ten cents. Not very valuable, huh?

If someone says that something is ‘a dime a dozen,’ it means that it is easy to find and obtain. It isn’t a high-value object that is rare or difficult to track down.

Where Does 'A Dime a Dozen' Come From?

The dime was first created as a currency in 1796. Around this time, merchants would advertise their goods as costing ‘a dime a dozen.’ The implication was that the consumer was getting a great deal on what they were buying.

For what it’s worth, it’s important to remember the impact of inflation on the value of money over time.

  • In 1786, $100 would be the equivalent of $3,177.22 today.
  • $1,000 would be equal to more than $31k in today’s dollars.
  • A dime in 1796 held the same value as $3.18 today.

Over time, the phrase ‘dime a dozen’ started to take on the opposite meaning as initially implied– instead of conveying that the products are a good deal, it illustrates something that is easily available and not particularly valuable.

It is thought that the first use of the idiom with this current meaning occurred around 1930.

Early Examples of ‘A Dime a Dozen’ in Print

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that 'a dime a dozen' doesn’t really pick up as a phrase until after 1920. It has an initial peak around WWII before declining and rising again. It found another peak around 2020 before decreasing ever so slightly.

The phrase ‘a dime a dozen’ can be found in Pearson’s Magazine from 1914:

“You have paid starving children at the rate of two cents for a dozen shirt-waists, at the best of times. Had you paid even a dime a dozen, your profit would still have been at least a hundred percent per week. Instead, you have actually docked your workers more than any damaged goods were worth. That is what you have done.”

A children’s arithmetic book from 1901 also uses the phrase, without the implication of something being so common it is worthless but pointing to the regular use of the phrase:

“Then his mother sent him on an errand to sell a dozen and a half of eggs. The grocer gave him a dime a dozen. How many cents did he bring home?”

A 1943 publication entitled Production in Shipbuilding Plants recounts the executive hearings before the U.S. Congress and uses the phrase with its current meaning:

“You can take a highly skilled worker, a rigger, a shipfitter, a steelman, or an engineer and you cannot get thos fellows a dime a dozen today. You used to be able to get almost anything in souther California for a dime a dozen, and I am not speaking disparagingly when I say that. I should think that these draft boards would be men that have a sound interest in the production of ships, as you know they are hollering for ships, ships, and more ships.”

Examples of 'A Dime a Dozen' In Sentences

How would 'a dime a dozen' be used in a sentence?

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • Everyone around here is looking for work– laborers are a dime a dozen. The problem is that there aren’t enough businesses to employ them.”
  • “Photographs used to be treasured objects– something that held a lot of meaning. Now that everyone has a camera on the phone they carry around in their pocket, photos are a dime a dozen.
  • “The last thing this town needs is another expensive restaurant. They are a dime a dozen around here. What we could really use is an affordable little hole-in-the-wall diner.”
  • “People with big dreams of fame and fortune are a dime a dozen. That’s not going to be enough to get you where you want to go.”
  • “I accidentally spent way too much money on a collectible card. I thought it was a really rare one, but it turned out everyone has this card– they’re a dime a dozen.”

Other Ways to Say 'A Dime a Dozen'

What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'a dime a dozen'?

Here are some options:

  • Run of the mill
  • Ordinary
  • Usual
  • Common
  • Cheap
  • Ten a penny (UK)

You can also use the phrase ‘buyer’s market’ when you want to describe that something is very cheap because there is a lot more supply than demand.

For example, if there are way more houses on the market than there are buyers looking to purchase a home, it’s a buyer’s market. You could also say, idiomatically, that houses are selling for ‘a dime a dozen’ during a buyer’s market.

Final Thoughts About 'A Dime a Dozen'

‘A dime a dozen’ is an idiom that you can use to describe something that is not particularly special, valuable, or rare. When an object is described as being ‘a dime a dozen,’ it means that they are very common and therefore doesn’t hold much value. They are easy to find and not particularly sought after.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!

Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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