Old chestnut


Calling something an old chestnut is describing the item as overused, boring, or tedious from repetition. It is usually used when describing a story, joke, or topic of discussion. The phrase is much more popular overseas.

The phrase may be used without the modifier old. Calling something a chestnut still carries the connotation of it being overused and without humor.

The wording of the phrase comes from a play written in 1816, in which the characters discuss a story about a chestnut tree being told over and over again. It is unclear who started using the phrase to mean anything repetitious, but it is clear it began in the United States in the 1880s.


One of the issues up for discussion will be the old chestnut of a new transaction tax. Ireland, like the UK, is implacably opposed to the tax but other countries appear determined to push it forward. [Irish Independent]

Finally in order to defang any critics, columnist Edward Keenan trots out the old chestnut about consistency being the bane of small minds. [Toronto Star]

If you fight the enemy, you become the enemy, so the old chestnut goes. [Breitbart News]

Major themes in the realm of playthings this year are connectivity, electronics and an old chestnut: gender stereotypes. [DW]

Tiberi, 86, says, “We do all the old chestnuts that everybody is familiar with, things like ‘Four Brothers,’ ‘Apple Honey,’ these are some of the exciting tunes we put in there.” [Mercury News]

The chestnut about a VCR perpetually blinking 12:00 isn’t amusing for those who rely on a similarly baffling machine to monitor their blood glucose. [SF Gate]

As the chestnut goes, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. [USA Today]

It may be a chestnut, but when staged and cast as smartly as this Broadway revival, a chestnut goes down like marron glacé. [Vulture]

5 thoughts on “Old chestnut”

  1. I seem to have waked up anxious to quibble. The provenance of “the old chestnut” is cited as a play from 1816, or, as the Grammarist couched it in his amusing and erudite observations, “a 1816 play”. I don’t think his right index missed the “n” key, I think he inserted the date after writing “a play”, and then forgot to change the article. But only he can tell us which. Or she, of course.

  2. I suspect a bit more obvious and ancient than this, if you have a bowl of chesnuts then you would want to peel and eat the nicer new chesnuts, an old chesnut superficially looks like the rest but when picked up may rattle and won’t be as nice so gets put back in the bowl, so the old chesnut tends to rattle around the bowl for perpetuity, nobody wants to bother peeling it. So old chesnut means something that tends to hang around forever, everybody knows its there but it won’t go away.

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