Read the fine print and read the small print

The phrases read the fine print and read the small print are often used in a literal sense, but they have taken on an idiomatic meaning. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beating around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, Achilles heel, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the definition of the expressions read the fine print and read the small print, where these phrases came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

The phrases read the fine print and read the small print describe good business practices when signing contracts. Most contracts have the body of the offer written in normal-sized type and disclaimers, conditions, limits and restrictions written in small or fine print. The small size of this print generally discourages the signer of the contract to read these disclaimers, though it is important to do so. For instance, a contract or an advertised offer may claim to give away free puppies, but in the fine print the contract or advertised offer may include the stipulation that the free puppies are only given away on Tuesdays between four a.m. and five a.m., and that the recipient must have purple hair and a peg leg in order to qualify for a free puppy. The phrases read the fine print and read the small print have become idioms which are warnings to understand all the conditions of a contract, advertised offer, warranty, etc., before agreeing to them. Though fine print or small print were used in contracts earlier, the phrases read the fine print and read the small print became popular in the mid-1900s. Related phrases are reads the fine print, reads the small print, reading the fine print, reading the small print.


She took out the policy to cover a trip she’s taking with friends to London, and she read the fine print like she always does–only she had no idea that, this time, some prize money was buried inside the contract. (Money Magazine)

Until then, investors should read the fine print carefully when their broker or adviser recommends a mutual fund, or any other investment. (Barron’s)

If you have a love of Shakespeare but a fear of snakes, it would be advisable to read the small print before venturing to the National Theatre’s latest staging of Antony and Cleopatra. (The Telegraph)

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