fun with phrases

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Wed Oct 19 15:52:04 UTC 2011

On Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 10:32 AM, Laurence Horn wrote:
> "You broke it, you bought it"
> New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman claims to have coined the
> term, having used the phrase "the pottery store rule" in a February 12,
> 2003, column. He has said he referred to Pottery Barn specifically in
> speeches.
> But this is clearly wrong, although perhaps he's the first to (almost)
> coin "the Pottery Barn rule" to name the dictum. One of the GB hits is
> for a 1972 script for the New York Shakespeare Company, but it appears
> to be a literal usage:
> SALESMAN:   "That machine is yours, lady."
> MOSSIE:         "I cain't work it!"
> SALESMAN:   "You broke it, you bought it."
> But there are certainly pre-Friedman metaphorical uses [...]

One important variant to track is present-tense "You break it, you buy
it" -- on GB from 1965 (in snippet view), with metaphorical use from
at least 1976. The 1994 example below seems like an important
precursor to Friedman's use.

_The American Life Collectors' Annual, Vol. 5_, 1965 (snippet)
Various dealers tell me the thing they dread most in taking valuable
items to a show is their fumbling by individuals who really have no
intention to buy. Even when the sign says "You break it, you buy it,"
they are not stopped.
_Our National Passion: 200 Years of Sex in America_, 1976 (snippet)
Marriage was based on the "you break it, you buy it" principle of
sexuality. A man paid, with marriage, for the privilege of defiling a
good woman. A bad woman was one you didn't have to marry.
_Communicate with Confidence!_, Dianna Booher, 1994, p. 135
Tip 389: Apply the "You Break It, You Buy It" Principle.
Never be the one who tears up everybody else's ideas and then has none
of your own to offer. If you criticize the best solutions others have
tossed out, you're obligating yourself to present substitutions.
According to author Milo Frank, this idea originated with Larry
Kitchen, retired chairman of Lockheed. Based on the frequent sign in
curio shops "You break it, you buy it," Mr. Kitchen applied the
principle to stop people who continually tossed water on others' ideas
with their routine negativism.


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list