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What Does It Mean If Something Is a "Dime a Dozen"?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 23, 2024
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The English idiomatic phrase “a dime a dozen” is used to refer to something that the speaker feels is extremely common, and thus not very valuable. This phrase is used quite a bit for any object, whether simple or abstract, that is thought to be essentially worthless because there is so much of it on a market, or so much generally available in a community. This sort of statement about worth is part of a more colorful way of looking at valuations for business, personal finance, or for any other purpose.

In terms of its origin, word experts point out that the phrase “a dime a dozen” can only have been used after the beginning of the 19th century when the dime, 10 cent, coin was invented in the American economy. This is also an essentially American idiom based on the currency of the United States. People may use this phrase around the world, but it originated from relating objects to the worth of the dime, which was minted so excessively by the American government that it came to be of very low value as a collectible.

Any consumer good that is abundantly available can be said to be “a dime a dozen.” People can even use this phrase to refer to abstract items like talent. Here, the phrase can even apply to people. For example, someone might say that skilled web developers are a dime a dozen in a given commercial environment. This statement maintains that the talent of the individuals in question is not worth very much because there is so much competition within the field.

It’s important to note that the phrase “a dime a dozen” stands in contrast to another quintessentially American idiom that has a much newer origin. Over time, within this English-speaking society, the idea of an informal rating system gained presence within the general English lexicon. The most common form of this rating system started with one and ended with ten, making ten the most desirable rating available. From this comes the idiomatic use of the single word “dime,” as something that is rated at the top of a scale. Most often, this idiom is used for attractiveness for either the male or the female, where a very attractive man or woman can be said to be a “dime,” meaning a perfect ten in terms of attractiveness.

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Discussion Comments
By bluedolphin — On Jun 11, 2014

I work in the film industry and people in this industry are fond of this phrase too. In fact, I just heard a director say it to an aspiring actor last week. He was told that "handsome actors are a dime a dozen" but real talent is hard to come by.

I don't agree with the director's opinion at all. Physical appearance and talent can coexist and they do! But I just wanted to give a real life example about the phrase.

By SarahGen — On Jun 11, 2014

@Inaventu-- You're right, this phrase is used a lot when talking about potential employees.

I never thought that I would feel sad about many people going to college and even doing Master's degrees. But when it's tough to get a job because "graduates are a dime a dozen," it's very upsetting.

By ZipLine — On Jun 11, 2014

"A dime a dozen" is a very common phrase used by many Americans. But it actually underlines a very important concept in economics, that the greater the amount of a good in a market, the lower the price.

For example, if there is only one or two cell phones on the market, the price will be high due to lack of competition. And the manufacturers can put the price they want because consumers who want a cell phone have no choice but to pay. But if there are one hundred cell phones on the market, then the price of cell phones is going to be much lower. The consumer will choose the product with the lower price and competition will pull the price down as well.

So "a dime a dozen" is a great idiom about economics!

By Inaventu — On Jun 05, 2014

My boss tends to use this phrase when it comes time to hire new employees. He'll say things like "salesmen are a dime a dozen, but what I need are closers" or "college graduates are a dime a dozen, but I'm looking for people with real world experience".

By AnswerMan — On Jun 04, 2014

I can't help but think of Bugs Bunny whenever I hear the saying "a dime a dozen". In one of his cartoons, Bugs Bunny sings an ode to his favorite vegetable: "Carrots are so divine/You get a dozen for a dime/It's MAAAAAAGIC!" I grew up hearing that idiom, but I thought it meant getting a great bargain, not having an overabundance of something. It wasn't until I heard Loretta Lynn sing the line "Women like you are a dime a dozen/You can buy 'em anywhere" that I realized what it really meant.

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