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The meaning and origin of the expression: Main chance

Main chance

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Main chance'?

The most important issue.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Main chance'?

We now use this phrase as part of 'an eye for the main chance', referring to someone who is ambitious and eager to promote their own advancement. The first known use of it in print is in John Lyly's, Euphues, the Anatomy of Wyt, 1579:

"Either content yourself with my choice, or lette mee stande to the maine chaunce."

Shakespeare used it soon afterwards in Henry VI Part 2, 1592:

There is a history in all men's lives,
Figuring the nature of the times deceased;
The which observed, a man may prophesy,
With a near aim, of the main chance of things
As yet not come to life, which in their seeds
And weak beginnings lie intreasured.
Such things become the hatch and brood of time;
And by the necessary form of this
King Richard might create a perfect guess
That great Northumberland, then false to him,
Would of that seed grow to a greater falseness;
Which should not find a ground to root upon,
Unless on you.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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