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The meaning and origin of the expression: Been there, done that

Been there, done that

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Been there, done that'?

When someone says "been there, done that" they mean that whatever is being talked about is commonplace to them, to the point of boredom.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Been there, done that'?

This phrase began life in the early 1970s, in the short form 'been there'. This had the same meaning as 'been there, done that'. An early example comes from the American author Edwin Torres' novel Carlito’s Way, 1975:

"Money is only an object. I’ll get it. Got it, been there."

The most commonly used form 'been there, done that' is generally regarded as an American expression. However, this early use of the phrase from the USA, in the New York newspaper the Syracuse Herald-American, February 1982, refers to it as Australian::

"Miss Tewes, who has just got divorced, says she doesn't plan to get married at this time. Using an Australian expression, she says, 'Been there, done that.'

That Australian origin theory is probably correct. The earliest use of 'been there, done that' that I can find is from The Sydney Morning Herald, October 1981:

For everyone reading this who has 'been there, done that' or is in the middle of this familiar nightmare, the good news is that we made it.

Whatever the origin, the expression 'been there, done that' spread worldwide and has become well enough known to have spawned some variants.

About a decade after it was coined, 'got the t-shirt' was added for extra emphasis. An early citation is from Ski Survival, February. 1991:

"Knee Injuries. Rosemary Burns has been there, done that and got the T-shirt. She gives fellow sufferers her sympathy and sound advice."

Been there, done that, got the t-shirtOf course, it wasn't long before you really could get the T-shirt. Such T-shirts have become a favourite of alumni associations worldwide.

And, having begun adding to the original 'been there', there's no real limit to how far people will go with this phrase. A recent (August 2007) posting in the Usenet Newsgroup claimed to have "Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, worn a hole in it and now use it as a duster."

Another variant, which became common after being used by La Roux in the song Bulletproof in 2009 - "Been there, done that, messed around".

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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