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Two questions nineteen to the dozen

Posted by Smokey Stover on April 16, 2004

In Reply to: Two questions nineteen to the dozen posted by James Briggs on April 14, 2004

: : : Two phrases I am curious about:

: : : 1. "that's mighty WIDE of you" vs. "that's mighty WHITE of you"...I know that most people think the correct phrase is mighty WHITE. I, however, think it was originally mighty WIDE, but has been changed as so much of our language has been. I realize to say "that's mighty WHITE of you" is considered racist, and I would never use it in that context, but I KNOW I have heard the phrase stated as "mighty WIDE" (said in a sarcastic way that someone is really going out of their way for you or allowing a WIDE BERTH so to speak). Any thoughts?

: : : 2. "Nineteen to the dozen"...I had never even heard of this. Is this where we got "ninety to nothing"? They mean the same thing and it sounds like (again) one of those phrases that started out as one thing but got changed as people heard it and THOUGHT they were saying "ninety to nothing" instead of "nineteen to the dozen"....??

: : 1. do you have any evidence to back this ... um ... unique theory?
: : 2. do you have any evidence to back this ... um... unique theory?

: Here's the origin of that saying.

: Dozen: When going nineteen to the dozen something or someone is going at breakneck speed. The origin here is one of the nicest that I have come across. It goes back to the time of the Cornish tin and copper mines. These mines were often hit by floods. In the 18th century coal powered, steam driven pumps were installed to clear the water. When working maximally the pumps could clear nineteen thousand gallons of water for every twelve bushels of coal.

There's something satisfying about an explanation that really makes sense, and has no obnoxious competitors. Thanks, James. I'm never sure how to look up number-oriented phrases. Just for laughs, I tried to find "forty-and-eight" (railroad cars that would hold forty men and eight mules) in the OED, but without luck. SS