Old chestnut

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Grammarist

Grammarist

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.

Examples

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]

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