dribs and drabs

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dribs and drabs

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:00 pm

<2012 “The data started coming out in dribs and drabs, in mundane descriptive studies at first.”—mobileSlate.com, 29 August>
DRIBS AND DRABS (in or by) [1809]: Small and intermittent sums or amounts; scattered or sporadic amounts of something; bits and pieces; small amounts. <The results were reported in dribs and drabs.>

Etymology: ‘Drib’ is known in some English, Irish and Scottish dialects from at least the eighteenth century, meaning a small quantity or a drop and is probably a variant of ‘drip’ or ‘drop’ or perhaps a shortening of ‘dribble.’ There is also the earlier verb ‘drib’ meaning ‘to fall in drops.’ For the origin of ‘drab’ two possibilities are offered. One is that it could be just an echo of ‘drib,’ as in such reduplications as ‘hanky-panky,’ ‘topsy-turvy’ and ‘hodgepodge.’ The less likely possibility is that it derives from a little-used dialect term having much the same meaning as ‘drib,’ though it was used in particular for a minor debt or a small sum of money. ‘Dribs and drabs’ first appeared in print in 1809 (see quote below).

(Oxford English Dictionary, World Wide Words, American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, and Allen’s Dictionary of English Phrases)

The following quotes are from the Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources:
< 1809 “Whether it be better to have a little [news] and often, or a great deal and seldom, I leave to your better judgment to determine. . . You may have it in dribs and drabs if you like it better.”—in Journal of a Governess (1969) Letter of E. Weeton, 17 March>

<1861 “None of us save money; it goes either in a lump, if we get a lump, or in dribs and drabs.”—London Labour (new edition) by H. Mayhew, III. page 190/1>

<1948 “They entered by dribs and drabs, lazily, slack.”—Concluding by ‘H. Green,’ page 123>

<1985 “We see an established poet lapsing for a period of a decade into depression, his work coming only in dribs drabs.”—Night Life by L. Hudson, vii. page 77>

<1999 “. . .we're average folk who spend our money in dribs and drabs . . .”—Washington Post (D.C.), 13 June>

<2013 “Our meals arrived in dribs and drabs.”—Birmingham Mail (England), 25 January>

Ken G – January 29, 2013
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