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[personal profile] whymzycal posting in [community profile] fandom_grammar
Happy Monday, grammar fans, and welcome to today’s post, in which we answer the question, “Is it ‘drips and drabs’ or ‘dribs and drabs’?” with a little help from the characters of Sherlock.

This alliterative little phrase—properly dribs and drabs, though “drips” does make a sort of sense—has its roots in the mid-1800s and comes from a couple of different words recorded in English, Irish, and Scottish dialects during that time. Drib, which meant a very tiny, inconsiderable amount, might even have been a variant of “drip,” though it’s certainly not used that way anymore. We only see it in the phrase dribs and drabs. As for drab, in this case, it doesn’t mean dull or boring. Originally, though some etymologists say it could be used interchangeably with drib, drab referred to a very small sum of money or very small debt.

The entire phrase made its way over to the U.S., and the definition has remained the same on both sides of the Atlantic—it means a small, gradual amount of something:

Lestrade sighed. “I’m just saying it’s frustrating, Sherlock. You give us hints in dribs and drabs over the course of an investigation, and it can take us weeks to put together a case when you’ve solved it in days or hours!”

“Not my problem, Graham,” Sherlock said, bending over to examine the most recent body left in a pile of rubbish. “It’s all there unless you’re too stupid to see it.”

You should feel free to incorporate dribs and drabs in any story (or real life conversation) when you want to reference a thing that’s happening in small, sporadic amounts or numbers, especially if the characters you’re writing (or you yourself) are fond of folksy-sounding alliteration.

Macmillan Dictionary
World Wide Words


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