observations on rinse and repeat

James A. Landau <JJJRLandau@netscape.com> JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Fri Nov 4 16:13:45 UTC 2011

On Thu, 3 Nov 2011 02:12:36 Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM> wrote:

>I came across "rinse and repeat" in a blog post today and it occurred to
>me that this was a fairly recent expression--late 1980s, by my
>reckoning. A quick look at the OED gives 1992.
>> N. Amer. colloq. and humorous rinse, repeat: used after a verb
>> (originally lather, with reference to the instructions frequently
>> found on shampoo labels), to indicate that an action or sequence is
>> repeated.
>> 1992 Vancouver Sun 12 Feb. d1/3   After that, it's lather, rinse and
>> repeat: Back over the mountain, back to the shooting fields then out
>> and back again.
>Scratching my head a bit further, got me thinking that the original joke
>must have come from programming (certainly, that's where I would have
>heard it) and that the OED definition misses the punchline: without
>external input, it's an infinite loop, which is why the expression is
>meant as more humorous than mere "repeat". I suspect, it usually shows
>up where the idea is more than mere repetition.

I can tell you when I first consciously saw this phrase.  It was at an in-service class on computer security in 1977.  The course materials included a set of reprints of various relevant articles.  One of the articles was by an English writer (all his cites were from England) about how you did not need a computer program to write instructions that had bugs in them.  He cited the shampoo bottle in a way that suggested the phrase was not yet well-known, something to the effect "and the user will be caught in an infinite loop, rinsing until aborted".

Unfortunately I have not been able to locate the set of reprints.  Sorry I cannot "of" been more useful.


An example of an ambiguous statement:  envelopes from inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary are labelled "This was mailed by an inmate.  Its contents may be uncensored".

"Uncensored"?  Huh?

BTW, the inmates are triply unlucky.  The Penitentiary's street address is 1313 N. 13th Ave, Wall Walla WA.  Walt Kelly please note.


What do you call someone who speaks several languages?
A polyglot.
What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
What do you call someone who only speaks one language?

    - James A. Landau

Netscape.  Just the Net You Need.

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

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