Cheap at half the price

Posted by Smokey Stover on April 02, 2005

In Reply to: " questions posted by David FG on March 31, 2005

: : : : : : : : 1) Does anyone know where 'out on a limb' comes from?

: : : : : : : : 2) Cheap at half the price - should that be 'double' not half? Cheap at half the price does not make sense - if something is cheap then it will be even cheaper at half the price. To express suprise of the cheapness of an item, the saying should surely be 'thats cheap at double the price'

: : : : : : : As far as your second question goes, the fact that it doesn't make sense is, I think, the whole point. It is meant to be a joke.

: : : : : : : DFG

: : : : : : From the Archives via ESC:
: : : : : : OUT ON A LIMB - "In an exposed or dangerous position. One can surmise that the literal origin of this saying was the treed animal, which was highly vulnerable to the hunter if it got out on a limb. The saying originated in the United States and by 1897 had acquired its figurative meaning, which is seen in 'Wolfville' by A.H. Louis: 'Several of us.seein' whatever we can tie down and brand, when some Mexicans gets us out on a limb.'" From The Dictionary of Cliches by James Rogers (Wings Books, Originally New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985).

: : : : : The 'cheap' here applies not to the price but the quality. Thus something which is poorly made could still be regarded as cheap even at half the original price.

: : : : ...or the person saying "cheap at half the price" simply doesn't care that they're technically incorrect. Lots of people say "I could care less" which doesn't make sense either, but the people who say it couldn't care less. Tone, situation, and body language convey the message if we don't analyze it closely.

: : : My understanding is similar to that of J. Briggs. The word 'cheap' relates to the quality and the expression is used in a negative sense, i.e., not that the person is expressing that they "got a bargain" but rather it would still be cheap (referring to poor quality) even if they had only paid half the price.

: : Seems like it's one of those ambiguous phrases.

: It seems that I am in good company in my opinion, then.


I'm sure everyone agrees that language works if most of the people speaking it have the same notion of what the words mean. In my view, what the experts think "cheap at half the price" ought to mean is less important than what it means to those who habitually use it. And that might vary from one region to another, or from one time period to another. In the region where I grew up, the phrase was exactly as David (in his first post) described it. I must comment on another phrase often brought up here and elsewhere, the phrase "I could care less." This is meaningless only if you don't know the meaning. In the California youth culture of a few years ago it would have been an elliptical phrase (as so many were there and then), meaning, in this case, "As though I could care less" (scornfully said). A similarly elliptical phrase, but perfectly understandable, is the phrase, "As if!" I've said all that before, but no one listens, and California youth doesn't give a rat's ass. SS

See also: the meaning and origin of 'cheap at half the price'.