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Six of one, half a dozen of the other

  • Six of one, half a dozen of the other is an idiom. 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 or metaphors, 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, which may use slang words, 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 in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, in the same boat, bite the bullet, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, 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. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. 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 meaning of the idiom six of one, half a dozen of the other, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.


     

    Six of one, half a dozen of the other means that two alternatives will render the same outcome; two options are virtually the same; there is no difference between two possibilities. When two alternatives are six of one, half a dozen of the other, it does not matter which alternative you choose–the outcome will be the same. The expression comes from the fact that half a dozen is an expression that means six. The idiom six of one, half a dozen of the other came into use in the 1700s. The earliest known use of the expression occurred in a journal kept by a British naval officer, Ralph Clark, in 1790. The phrase most almost certainly in use before Clark wrote it in his journal.

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    Examples

    Six of one, half a dozen of the other: The filmmakers’ decision to stay out of the way and shape the story largely in the editing room bears different returns – a less mediated, more immersive, and ultimately quite moving portrait of hopeful youths headed into a harder adulthood. (The Austin Chronicle)

    To the charge of assaulting the 10-year-old, he replied: “I didn’t think I assaulted him – I know it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other but I didn’t think I assaulted him.” (The Irish Examiner)

    He says when comparing the security and quality of open source and commercial software “it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other”. (The Guardian)


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