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Tell it to the Marines! Another version

Posted by James Briggs on October 28, 2000

In Reply to: Tell it to the Marines! posted by Scott Marsden on October 27, 2000

: I was taking a browse through Brewer's "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable" online, when I stumbled on this phrase -- "tell it to the marines!"

: I had heard it used (and used it) as a response to someone with a minor gripe. I always thought it was sarcastic, along the lines of "tell it to the marines, maybe they'll help you out!" (dripping sarcasm)

: Brewer's explanation says it means "Tell that to greenhorns, and not to men who know better. Marines are supposed by sailors to be so green that they will swallow the most extravagant story."

: I think this difference in definition comes from a difference in opinion about marines between 19th century England and modern North America. Most modern North Americans regard Marines (U.S. Marines) as tough customers and elite soldiers. You can tell your gripe to the Marines, but they aren't going to listen your your piddling problems. But Brewer states that British Marines were looked down upon by regular seamen, so much so that "marines" was a nickname for empty bottles. "Tell it to the marines," they'd say, "and maybe those fools will listen to you!"

: But then again, maybe I just have a severe misunderstanding of the phrase from the get-go.

To say to someone "tell that to the Marines" suggests that you don't really believe them. The Marines here are not the US variety but the much older military unit which belonged to King Charles II. The story goes that the King, being told by a naval officer that such things as flying fish existed, remarked "Tell that to my Marines". A nearby Marine officer, who felt that this was an insult, was mollified when the King explained that it was a compliment. His Marines had been to all parts of the World and had seen everything. If they had not seen flying fish, then they didn't exist.