fun with phrases

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Oct 19 18:40:41 UTC 2011

On Oct 19, 2011, at 2:04 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:

> GB affords a "You break it, you buy it" allegedly from 1965. Looks
> persuasive, but the date may be wrong.
> It refers to a sign, as do real exx. from the early '70s.
> Certainly I was familiar with it by 1970.
> The past-tense version sounds strange to me, however.

I'm assuming the present tense version is a reduced conditional ([If] you break it [then] you buy/own it), while the past tense one is a reduced conjunction ("You broke it [and [so]] you bought it", although the conditional reading is also possible: "If you broke it, you bought it", as in some of the GB cites).  The relation between the two is fairly close, as it is with "No X no Y" constructions ("No justice, no peace" or "No tickee no washee" on the one hand and "No smoking, no spitting" on the other, and combined on the third hand as "No shirt, no shoes, no service").


> On Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 1:37 PM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at> wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
>> Subject:      Re: fun with phrases
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> The variant I'm most familiar with, aside from the straight "you broke
>> it, you bought it" is "you break it, you /own/ it" and similar variants.
>> I vaguely recall a number of pieces disproving the "Pottery Barn Rule"
>> having anything to do with the Pottery Barn (then division of
>> Williams-Sonoma). I would place those recollections /before/ Friedman's
>> alleged coinage, but I would not be able to prove the dates. Snopes
>> usually dates their posts, so if they have one, it will be dated.
>> I don't have time to search for details today. If this is not resolved
>> by late tonight, I might give it a spin.
>>    VS-)
>> On 10/19/2011 11:52 AM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
>>> 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 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.
>>> --
>>> Ben Zimmer
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