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A Dime a Dozen

Carton of eggs
Carton of eggs
A Dime a Dozen
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Now, the VOA Learning English program Words and Their Stories.

Each week, we explore the English language. We take a close look at words and expressions. We not only define the terms, we also give examples on when and how to use them.

On today's show, we talk about the word dozen. By definition, a dozen can mean specifically 12 of anything.

Most cupcake recipes make a dozen.
Most cupcake recipes make a dozen.

In baking, for example, if you bake a dozen cookies, you baked 12. Most recipes for cupcakes and cookies are based on baking 12 of them. However, the amount in a baker’s dozen is 13.

You may be asking, “why?”

Encyclopedia Britannica explains that in “medieval England there were laws that related the price of bread to the price of the wheat used to make it.” If bakers did not give their customers the correct amount, they could get fined or worse -- beat! So, they would bake a little extra just to be sure.

Some baked goods such as donuts and bagels are cheaper if you buy them by the dozen.
Some baked goods such as donuts and bagels are cheaper if you buy them by the dozen.

Now, that is a specific way to use the word “dozen.” But people also use the word “dozen” in a general way. Then, it simply means a lot. So, if you say you have dozens of friends or dozens of job offers – it does not mean you that have counted them. But it does mean you are pretty lucky!

So those are the two meanings of the word “dozen.”

In English, we use the word in an expression that describes something not so special. That term is a dime a dozen. This means that something is very easy to find or ordinary.

“Ordinary” is one of the many synonyms for “dime a dozen.” Something that is a dime a dozen could also be called commonplace or typical.

A dime a dozen

Now, earlier I said that a dozen is 12 of anything. But with this expression, the dozen could mean a dozen of eggs. Usually eggs are sold in a small box, or container, by the dozen. And buying a dozen eggs for a dime is really cheap.

As you probably know, a dime is only worth 10 cents, or one-tenth of a dollar. These days, you cannot buy much with that. In fact, today even traditional dime store candy costs more than a dime. So, anything that is “a dime a dozen” is very common or also very cheap.

You can use the term dime a dozen for just about anything.

These two friends are on vacation at the beach. Let’s hear how they use this expression.

The beach is a very popular summer destination.
The beach is a very popular summer destination.

(sighs) I just love the seashore. I could stay here and look at the ocean all day.

Me, too. Hey, look out there! Is that a hot air balloon?

Not just one. There are many hot air balloons! It must be a race or something! Amazing!

They’re going to fly by us just as the sun sets.

That is going to be breathtaking! Get your camera ready!

I can’t. I’m supposed to meet a friend for ice cream.

If you go now, you’ll miss the balloons flying by.

But this friend is a guy … a really cute guy.

Cute guys are a dime a dozen! But watching dozens of hot air balloons fly over the ocean as the sun sets is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

You’re right. What am I thinking? Look! Here they come now …

Things that are a dime a dozen are also easy to replace. Because Washington, D.C. is such a political town, political experts are a dime a dozen.

However, programs that teach American English in a fun way are not a dime a dozen. They are rare and unique! So, don’t forget to join us next week for another Words and Their Stories.

Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo!

Is there something in your life that is 'a dime a dozen?' Let us know in the Comments section.

Anna Matteo wrote this story. George Grow was the editor. The song at the end is Carla Thomas singing her 1968 hit song “Dime a Dozen.”


Word in This Story

specificallyadv. in a definite and exact way

recipen. a set of instructions for making food

generaladj. not specific or detailed

ordinaryadj. normal or usual : not unusual, different, or special; disapproving : not very impressive

typicaladj. normal for a person, thing, or group : average or usual

cheap adj. not costing a lot of money

dime store n. U.S. old-fashioned : a store that sells inexpensive goods

breathtaking adj. very exciting : very great or surprising

uniqueadj. very special or unusual : belonging to or connected with only one particular thing, place, or person