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Fair to middling vs fair to midland

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  • Fair to middling is a term that dates back to the early 1800s, while fair to midland is an improper rendering of the phrase. We will examine the definition of fair to middling and fair to midland, where the terms came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

    Fair to middling describes something that is average or only slightly above average. The term is an American phrase, used as early as the 1820s. The term fair to middling originally referred to gradations of quality in cotton, sheep and other farm goods. Such goods may be designated into categories such as fine, good, fair, middling and poor. By the 1860s the phrase fair to middling evolved into common speech to mean something average or slightly above average.

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    Fair to midland is a mondegreen, which is a misheard version of a phrase, saying, lyric, poetic phrase, or slogan. Some speculate that the phrase began as a joke concerning the English Midlands or Midland, Texas. It is most likely simply a mishearing of the word middling, especially when pronounced as “middlin’ “.

    Examples

    Wheat and Oat harvest is well underway with Oats are well below last year’s average and wheat is fair to middling, mostly fair. (The Gainesville Register)

    From the fair to middling dirt road, the white dunes could be seen rising above the red Kalahari sands long before pulling up at the entrance gate. (The Independent)

    By any objective standard, President Trump’s speech to Congress Tuesday night was fair to middling: a standard-issue recitation of his priorities seasoned with calls for bipartisan compromise and closing with a lyrical appeal to members of Congress to join him in “dreaming big and bold and daring things for our country.” (The Los Angeles Times)

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