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Dribs and drabs

The idiom meaning small sporadic amounts or little by little is dribs and drabs, not drips and drabs—though the latter does make logical sense. In the 19th century, when the original idiom was first recorded, both drib and drab meant a small quantity or amount. Drib has fallen out of use (except in this idiom), and drab is rarely used in this older sense, but the idiom dribs and drabs survives.

Examples

Drips and drabs makes about as much sense as the original idiom, as drip can also mean a small quantity or amount, so it’s no surprise to find examples like these:


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The story may sting, but if it continues coming out in drips and drabs the pain worsens. [Media Post]

With drips and drabs of information, Hugo Chà¡vez is slowly informing the world that he is seriously ill. [Foreign Policy]

But donations have streamed in – sometimes in a flurry, others times in drips and drabs. [Boston Globe]

But dribs and drabs is the traditional form, and it still appears often—for example:

Despite their long wait, savers will get their money back in dribs and drabs over the next three years, rather than upfront. [Independent]

With this country’s Guinness being brewed inside the Red Zone, stocks of the black nectar are slipping out in dribs and drabs. [New Zealand Herald]

The rest of the breakaway group finished in dribs and drabs ahead of the main pack. [CNN]

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