fun with phrases

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Oct 20 01:17:07 UTC 2011

A very slightly modified expression from 1965. (Bonus: whole enchilada;
no OED entry for coin laundry--both whole enchilada and coin-operated
are dated to 1960)
Saturday Evening Post. Volume 238. 1965 [Not sure about the volume, but
the date is likely correct.]
p. 29 [?]
> There is also, the driver assured us, "a guy who gives Mass in
> sneakers." And in Avalon I saw with my ow eyes such things as Kelly's
> Taco, June's Mad Clothes and Antiques, a coin laundry with coin
> hair-dryers ad a gift shop heavily booby-trapped with signs saying,
> The Beautification situation in the upper or clifftop section of
> Avalon, as our driver explained it, is that "the buildings have gotta
> conform to the Spanish style. The stucco, and the tile and the chicken
> wire--the whole /enchilada/."

New Campus Writing 1965 [GB says 1966, but cover image looks like 1965.
Publication is an irregular serial. library catalogs list volume 5 as 1966.]
> C
> Sign in the "Trade Winds Gift and China Shop" reads, "If you break it
> you've bought it!"
> D
> Sign in brothel: "All purchases are final."

Similar sign in 1969.
Practical family and marriage counseling. By Calvert Stein. Springfield,
IL: 1969
p. 93
> (Sign in gift shop: "If you break it, you've bought it.")

Same sign in 1970.
A First Book of Antiques. By Cyril Bracegirdle. London: 1970
p. 124
> There will sometimes be notices telling you that 'If you break it
> you've bought it!' It is not a good idea to start your career as an
> antique collector by carelessly sweeping your coat or waving an arm
> and smashing to the floor a piece of seventeenth-century Meissen
> porcelain.

Another, rhyming variation from 1970.

The underground revolution: hippies, yippies, and others. By Naomi
Feigelson. 1970 [WorldCat agrees--this is the only edition.]
p. 11
> The widely publicized opening sale and the motto, "If you break it you
> take it," showed, more than the free merchandise, what the Free Store
> was all about it.
p. 89
> There are large boxes full of shoes, piles of clothes i a corner,
> racks hung with old dresses and coats, an occasional lamp and piece of
> furniture, piles of unsorted clothes, and two big signs, SALE, and IF

One more variant:
Moving through here. By Don McNeill. 1970
p. 122
> A sign read: "If you break it, you've got to take it."

And, Pièce de résistance:
Hobbies. [GB:] Volume 68(7). 1963 [Date appears OK, but needs verification.]
p. 83
> A good rule, though sometimes impractical of enforcemet, is, "If you
> break it, you bought it."


If we are going to take literal meaning, than we must consider a
turn-of-the-century sermon.
The Gospel in All Lands. New York: January 1896
What is a heathen? By Rev. J. C. Hiden. p. 4/2
> To imagine that we can make a Christian out of a Chinaman by
> persuading him to conform to European ideas of dress, personal habits,
> views of education, and what not, all this is not only wild, it is
> fearfully mischievous. It teaches men to think that a little external
> polish, a little of what we please to call "civilization," is part and
> parcel of the religion of Jesus Christ. "There is no veneering in the
> work of God." When the Roman general Mummius was sacking Corinth he
> saw some of his rough soldiers carelessly handling a magnificent Greek
> statue. He warned them to be more careful, "for," said he, "if you
> break it you shall replace it!" Think of it! An arm carved by Phidias
> broken and " restored "by a hewer of cobble stones on a Roman road!
> The thing, however, is no more impracticable than is the substitution
> of some awkward work of modern "culture " for that grandest of all
> statues Christ formed in you, the hope of glory.

Interestingly, this seems to be stock fare for sermons of the day.
The Triumph of the Cross. By E[dward] P[ayson] Tenney. Boston: 1895
Book VI. Christian Philanthropy. 3. Workingmen in Christendom. p. 393
> Our brother was as much mistaken in his premises and his logic as in
> his rhetoric, who affirmed in Trafalgar Square that the iron heel of
> the Christian capitalist was being more tightly twisted around the
> neck of labor. There is not so much a want of sympathy and a purpose
> to do right as want of thinking what is right. The philanthropy of the
> age is constantly seeking for a better arrangement of the business
> world. "True democracy," says President Tucker, li is not the saying
> 'I am as good as you are,' but 'You are as good as I am.'" "What is
> mine is thine," says Christianity, and this is a complete answer to
> the socialist who claims that "What is thine is mine." [1: This is a
> German way of putting it.]
> Christianity takes pride in the disciplined patience wrought into the
> human character of Jesus in the homely toils of a Nazarene carpenter
> shop. Nor can he be called Christian in any sense who is out of touch
> with the hand of labor. Neither can he be called in any sense a friend
> of the people who seeks to alienate men from that religious ideal
> which distinguishes the Christian laborer from his fellows in Africa
> and India and China. "If the rich," says Barnett, "were as generous
> and just as Christ, if the poor were as honest and brave as Christ,
> there would not be much left which socialism could add to the world's
> comfort." [2: Rev, Samuel Barnett, Practicable Socialism, p. 211.
> London, 1888.]
> "If you break it, you shall replace it," quoth Mummius, the Roman,
> when he was sacking Corinth, and saw a soldier handle a Greek statue
> more carelessly than Phidias. He must indeed be bold who desires, in
> Dr. Hale's phrase, "to form of the human race a muss," to obliterate
> every distinction of unique individuality, to pound the Apollo into
> cobblestones.

It's not elliptic, but it comes rather close to the same idea as one
expressed by "you break it, you bought it".


On 10/19/2011 11:52 AM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
> 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. --- ...

The American Dialect Society -

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