The Grammarphobia Blog

Tom, Dick, and Harry, part 2

Q: I’ve found an earlier citation for “Tom, Dick, & Harry” than the one you cite in your Feb. 18, 2007, posting about the expression. The 17th-century English theologian John Owen used the words in 1657. I discovered this on page 52 of God’s Statesman, a 1971 a biography of Owen written by Peter Toon.

A: Congratulations! This predates the earliest citation for the combination “Tom, Dick, and Harry” in the Oxford English Dictionary: “1734 Vocal Miscellany (ed. 2) I. 332: Farewell, Tom, Dick, and Harry, Farewell, Moll, Nell, and Sue.” (The quotation appears to be from a song lyric.)

Your cite even beats an earlier variation in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 (1696): “I am sworn brother to a leash of Drawers, and can call them by their names, as Tom, Dicke, and Francis.”

If I were you, I’d let the OED know about your find. The email address for contributing new evidence to the dictionary is oed3@oup.com. I’ve added a note about the Owen quotation to my original blog item.

Thanks for the information. I suspect that I’ll be doing a lot more updating. Language sleuths are discovering earlier and earlier citations for words and phrases as Google and others digitize millions of published works.

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