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Tomayto, tomahto and potayto, potahto

  • Tomayto, tomahto and potayto, potahto are two variations of 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 like an often-used metaphor 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 and idiomatic language such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, 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, because 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; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the idiom variations tomayto, tomahto and potayto, potahto, where they came from, and some examples of their idiomatic usage in sentences.


     

    Tomayto, tomahto and potayto, potahto are two phrases that mean the difference between two things is trivial. The terms tomayto, tomahto and potayto, potahto may be used dismissively, for instance, when the speaker does not believe someone has a valid point or does not acknowledge the importance of his belief. The expressions tomayto, tomahto and potayto, potahto are sometimes used to mean that two people’s differences are so trivial that it will be easy to come to a consensus. The idioms tomayto, tomahto and potayto, potahto are derived from the George and Ira Gershwin song, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, written for the American film, Shall We Dance, released in 1937: You like potato and I like potahto / You like tomato and I like tomahto / Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto / Let’s call the whole thing off.” In the song, the only difference between these words is their pronunciation.

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    Examples

    Like every community, Greenville has its own unique characteristics. Some might call them quirks, but tomayto, tomahto. (The Greenville News)

    No, actually, Harington clarified that he meant ‘popped the question,’ not ‘blew my load,’ but tomayto tomahto. (Elle Magazine)

    He’s got a crush on a senior (Aaron Samuels, President Obama, potayto, potahto). (Cosmopolitan Magazine)

    Whereupon she unleashes a veritable ’78-to-’84 pantheon of late disco, post-disco, synth-funk, electro-boogie, potayto, potahto. (The Village Voice)


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