Idly wondering: "If it's not one thing, it's two things."

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Oct 1 06:37:39 UTC 2013

Here is some general background information. I do not know about the
socio-linguistic distribution.

Date: February 1896
Periodical: Good Housekeeping
Poem: There Is Always a Something
Author: Hunter MacCulloch
Quote Page 64
(A note  asserts that the poem is original to Good Housekeeping)

[Begin excerpt]

There is always a something, whatever your lot,
  And oh! how that something annoys!
Though the merest of specks it becomes a big blot,
  A pang at the heart of your joys,
What matters the manifold blessings you've got,
  If there's one little cloud in the blue?
There's always a something whatever your lot,
  And if it's not one thing - it's two!
[End excerpt]

This excerpt is about one-third of the full poem. The hyphen is a dash
in the original text. The following line appeared three times in the
full poem: "And if it's not one thing - it's two!"

Wolfgang lists the expression as a variant in "A Dictionary of
American Proverbs".

Year: 1992 Copyright
Title: A Dictionary of American Proverbs
Authors: Wolfgang Mieder, Stewart A. Kingsbury, Kelsie B. Harder
Preview Page is Unnumbered but GB claims Page 816
(Google Books Preview)

[Begin excerpt]
11. First one thing and then another. Vars.: (a) If it's not one
thing, it's another. (b) If it's not one thing, it's two. (c) It's one
thing or another. Rec. dist.: Miss., Ont., S.C. 1st cit.: ca1374
Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde; USca1906 O'Malley, Epigram in Hubbard,
Thousand and One Epigrams. 20c. coll.: Stevenson 2301:9, Whiting(MP)
[End excerpt]

Grammar and word maven Patricia T. O'Conner used an extended version
of the expression.

Year: 1996 and 2003 Copyrights
Title: Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English
Author: Patricia T. O'Conner
Quote Page 19
(Google Books Preview)

[Begin excerpt]
If it's not one thing, it's two — or four, or eight — and that's where
plurals come in.
[End excerpt]


On Tue, Oct 1, 2013 at 1:40 AM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Idly wondering: "If it's not one thing, it's two things."
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Mon, Sep 30, 2013 at 9:23 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at>wrote:
>> "If it's not one thing, it's your mother."
> True that! :-(
> --
> -Wilson
> -----
> All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint to
> come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
> -Mark Twain
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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