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The meaning and origin of the expression: Chance would be a fine thing

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Chance would be a fine thing

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Chance would be a fine thing'?

There is not much chance of that [thing], welcome though it would be.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Chance would be a fine thing'?

The meaning of 'chance would be a fine thing' isn't immediately obvious. A longer version of it might be "I would love to have the opportunity of doing what you suggest but am prevented".

An example might make it clearer. Imagine inching along in a traffic queue and approaching a 70 mph speed limit sign. "Chance would be a fine thing" would be an appropriate response.

It is a colloquial English expression and, these days, is often associated with the gay community and is frequently delivered in a rueful high camp tone.

The expression emerged as street slang in the Victorian era and first made it into print in the 1870s. This piece is from a court case reported in the York Herald newspaper in January 1872. It concerns a pub landlord in the Yorkshire town of Scarborough:

Thomas Watson, beerhouse-keeper, Waterhouse Lane, was charged with keeping open house for the sale of beer at eleven o'clock on Sunday morning, the 1st December. In his defence the defendant Robert Spanton said that Constable Bellwood came to him and Charles Richardson in the street and said, "My lads, you look as though a glass of ale would do you good this morning." Richardson said that the chance would be a fine thing.

The phrase wasn't widely used until the 1950s and even today it is hardly commonplace and, but for the efforts of the likes of Kenneth Williams in Round the Horne, it might have died out altogether.

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