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The meaning and origin of the expression: Different strokes for different folks

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Different strokes for different folks

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Different strokes for different folks'?

Different ways of doing things are appropriate for different people.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Different strokes for different folks'?

Different strokes for different folksThis expression began life in the USA in the 1960s. The first person known to have used it is the boxer Muhammed Ali. Here's an example taken from the transcript of an interview he gave while preparing for his fight with Cleveland Williams in November 1966, in which he was explaining his boxing style:

"I don't have any [big] punch. I just hit a man so many times he wished I had a punch."

and, explaining his knock-out punches against Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson, he said:

"I got different strokes for different folks."

Ali went on to win the fight which saw the first use of his famous Ali Shuffle.

In using 'different strokes for different folks' it may be that Ali was repeating existing street slang but, if so, there's no surviving record of the expression in print prior to his use of it. Given Ali's celebrated and inventive use of language it is likely that he coined the expression himself.

Different Volks for sifferent folksThe expression soon became commonplace in the USA (although it is rarely used anywhere else in the English-speaking world). By 1974 it had become common enough for Volkswagen to use a version of it in an advert.

See also: the List of Proverbs.

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