Grammar 101: Six of One, Half a Dozen of the OtherAugust 23rd, 2012 by Michael Kwan
Even among those who are living in places like Vancouver or New York, many of these idiomatic phrases and sayings can leave you scratching your head. One phrase that I use not infrequently is “six of one, half a dozen of the other.” There are slight variations on this saying, like “six of one, half dozen of the other” or “six of one, a half dozen of the other,” but they all hold fundamentally the same meaning.
It Doesn’t Matter
If you hear someone say this (it is very rarely written in my experience), they are typically comparing two possible objects or ideas. For example, someone might ask if it is faster to get downtown via Hastings Street or via First Avenue and the other person may say, “Six of one, half a dozen of the other.” This is essentially saying that there is a negligible difference between the two possible routes and it really doesn’t matter which one you pick.
This kind of phrasing can also be used somewhat more facetiously. In the context of politics and a voter choosing between two candidates, the cynic might say, “It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. They’re both crooks and neither of them has your best interest at heart.” Again, this means that you’re going to end up with much the same result no matter which candidate you choose. They may be different, in the strictest sense, but your choice doesn’t really matter. This is because a half dozen of something is six of that something. They are equal and equivalent.
Meh, Same Difference
A related idiom is “same difference.” This has the same meaning as “six of one, half a dozen of the other.” I find myself saying this fairly often too. I can’t say whether or not this phrasing is just as common in other parts of Canada, in the United States, or in other parts of the English-speaking world though. There are many Aussie-isms that aren’t all common in Canada, so I imagine the reverse is equally true.
Are there other English idioms that you find strange or that you don’t fully understand? Many of them are direct references to works or stories deemed to be a part of common knowledge. “If the shoe fits,” for example, is drawn from the story of Cinderella. Do you have a favorite idiom or saying?
Filed under Freelance Writing.