query--("next to nobody")

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at UMR.EDU
Sat Sep 16 19:37:36 UTC 2006

 Maybe "next to nobody" was preceded by "next to nothing" (= almost nothing), where "next to" would make sense. E.g. the figure "one triillionth" would be figuratively next to zero.  Then "next to nobody" could have arisen by analogy to "next to nothing."

Gerald Cohen


From: American Dialect Society on behalf of Michael Quinion
Sent: Sat 9/16/2006 11:26 AM
Subject: Re: query

> Here's a new one to me:  "Next to nobody wants higher taxes" (or whatever),
> meaning "Almost nobody."  Where does this come from?

It seems to be of some antiquity, to judge from examples. The OED has one
instance, dated 1863; I've found another from the Atlantic Monthly of the
year after: "We shall soon learn that there is next to nobody who really
favored this thing in the beginning." NewspaperArchive claims two examples
(I haven't checked them) from the previous decade. The OED one appears to
be British; I've found another from a British work, Curiosities of London
Life, by Charles Manby Smith, dated 1853. The idiom sounds dialectal to
me, but not strange: I can remember using it myself.

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: wordseditor at worldwidewords.org
Web: http://www.worldwidewords.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list