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Same difference

This phrase has aggravated me since the first time I heard it. Those who use it justify it as being akin to, “...same thing!” which has never sat right me. In my opinion, something is either the same or it is different. By this token, “Same difference!” sounds like a junk phrase that sounds correct but is, in fact, meaningless. It grates for me as much as “irregardless”. 

Am I incorrect? Is there any validity to this phrase, outside of modern colloquialism?

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First of all it's an idiom, so it doesn't really need much justification. And in any case it's only used informally; nobody's going to write it in an academic essay!

But secondly, it's far from meaningless; it's like saying - "Well, these two things (whatever they are) may look different, but as far as I'm concerned they're more or less the same." - "same difference" makes perfect sense in this context. And it's efficient - just two words.

Example form Longman Dictionary - 'I could mail the letter or send a fax in the morning.' - 'Same difference. It still won't get there on time.'

It's a bit like saying "six one, half a dozen the other" - another colloquial expression which needs no justification, or do you think that's "a junk phras" too?

"Is there any validity in this phrase, outside modern colloquialism?" - isn't modern colloquialism validity enough? And it can hardly be meaningless when everyone understands what it means.

Warsaw Will May 24, 2013, 2:40pm

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I appreciate the response, Will, and while I don't disagree that it's efficient (like you said, it's only two words) I suppose I take most offense with the words themselves, 'Same' and 'Difference',which to my ear sound oxymoronic.

The Longman Dictionary example you provided does highlight it's best application to me, but it still sounds off.I guess the most I can do is be dissatisfied with its saturation, but I appreciate you clearing it up for me.

J. Alexandre May 24, 2013, 3:04pm

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@ J.Alexandre - Thanks for your reply, which was rather more diplomatic than my comment. Talking of oxymorons, my English teacher's favourite expression was "Now, then he said, giving me a pretty ugly look", and I'm reminded we also have the expression "a deafening silence". English is just like that sometimes.

Warsaw Will May 24, 2013, 3:55pm

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I've always hated this phrase as well. To me, the phrase "same difference" implies a comparison between TWO sets.

For example:

"Which was harder, Johnny? The transition from high school to college or college to grad school?"

"Oh, same difference."

Max_Elliott May 24, 2013, 4:11pm

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@J.Alexandre - and then there's the saying - "The more things change, the more they stay the same"

@Max-Eliot - it's just an idiom. And yes, of course it's about comparison of two things - but one where there's not really much difference.

Warsaw Will May 25, 2013, 12:26am

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Warsaw Will speaks sense. Idioms just generally don't have that kind of logic. (Well, most actual English doesn't, to be honest.)

J, I bet "could care less" makes your blood boil. ;)

dave May 26, 2013, 8:45am

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Could care less is awful, as it is completely incorrect. At least, in England, we say “I couldn’t care less”.

David Storey May 26, 2013, 10:01pm

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There's a fairly level-headed discussion of "could care less" here -

Warsaw Will May 27, 2013, 12:25am

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An example: "Apples and oranges? Same difference."

I realized it could be comparing the two differences of apples to apples and apples to oranges!

How about that?

suitjackets May 27, 2013, 6:13pm

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@dave Yes, I most certainly despise that phrase! As David Storey pointed out, it is plain grammatically incorrect to me. I do use the phrase, "I couldn't care less," as I think the idea behind the phrase is that one has reached the absolute zero of their level of caring, so it cannot be any less than that. To me, "could care less" implies the speaker cares a bit more than not at all, and they could still drop to absolute zero in caring but have not yet.

J. Alexandre May 28, 2013, 11:45am

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@Warsaw Will -- Thanks for that great article on the phrase, too! It is, as you described, level-headed and I think brings up very interesting points on the matter.

J. Alexandre May 28, 2013, 11:48am

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@suitjackets - sorry, but I think you're over-analysing a very simple idiom, which just means "there's very little difference (as far as the speaker is concerned)":

"Which do you prefer, apples or oranges?" - "Same difference, I hate them both!"

Here's an example from Time Magazine from 2000, via Wiktionary:

"Apple as a company has been as much about design as about technology. Is it in danger of putting form ahead of function? Same difference, says Jobs."

In other words, to Jobs, form and function were indistinguishable.

Warsaw Will May 29, 2013, 3:45am

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Warsaw Will — You're probably right. :-)

suitjackets May 29, 2013, 5:54am

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@suitjackets - I don't think you were the only one. :))

I was thinking in that Jobs quote, he could also have used another idiom - "They're two sides of the same coin".

Warsaw Will May 29, 2013, 8:40am

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I can certainly see why some might find the oxymoron "same difference" irritating, but I have to agree with Will; it does make a certain kind of sense. "Same difference" does not mean that two things are the same. It means that two things actually are different, but for the purpose at hand, they are the same. To put it another way, yes, they're different but it doesn't matter.

Personally, whenever I hear someone say "same difference", I always reply: "you mean like, seven and nine...and, er...eleven and thirteen?"

porsche June 27, 2013, 11:22am

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Oh, and as for "I could care less", I don't think it means that you do actually care a little. I've always understood it to be a sarcastic utterance, and as such, correctly meaning the same thing as "I couldn't care less", the type of thing that in days past would only be mumbled by a petulant teenager, usually preceded by "Oh, like...".

And yes, I do realize that today, many use "I could care less" carelessly, without much thought or any sarcastic inflection.

porsche June 27, 2013, 11:36am

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Compare "seven minus five" and "twenty minus eighteen".
Same difference.


Hairy Scot June 27, 2013, 7:09pm

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I had never heard it being used like that.. but i can think of an example where it kind of fits:

Why were both our answers different from the answer sheet's?
Same difference: we both used the wrong pronouns.

I like Hairy's answer! It's more like what I tried to do here..

Hélcio Fernandes July 22, 2013, 2:51am

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It's just an expression; nothing to fret about. In fact, it has a bit of a humorous feel because the expression is somewhat absurd under analysis. Like "Same old same old."

bubbha August 3, 2013, 9:29pm

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I've always thought it was a humorous combination of 'Same thing' and 'No Difference'

GrumpyPierre August 25, 2013, 2:26pm

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Yes     No