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Mr. Billion
The First USA Noel


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What the heck* does "there, there" mean? Obviously it's a phrase used to console people, but what does it really mean? How does saying "There, there" indicate consolation?

*I'm guessing that "there there" is a phrase similar to "what the heck", in that "what the heck" probably used to be "what in Hell" or "what on Earth". The words "what the heck" grammatically don't make much sense together (as far as I can tell) and neither do the words "there there". So both phrases are probably mutations of earlier phrases.

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"For the U.S. to get involved militarily in determining the outcome of the struggle over who's going to govern Iraq strikes me as a classic definition of a quagmire." ~Dick Cheney.

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HighSierra Sherey
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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You could start here on the "Word Detective" website
where they claim: "Interestingly, both 'There, there' and 'Now, now' are fairly recent inventions, first appearing in those senses in the 19th century." (see about 3/4 of the way down the page)

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BamaRainbow
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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Did a little searching and found this

http://www.word-detective.com/092906B.html

It's about two-thirds down the page under the heading "Pat pat". Basically what it comes down to is

"There" is also used in a variety of verbal constructions to indicate the existence of a person or thing not actually present, as in "Don't forget that there's Bill's birthday party on Sunday," or, if one does forget, "There's always next year."

The consolation of that "there's always next year" is the key to "There, there" as a comforting verbal gesture. Its role is to say "Look there, there's something good amid the bad." In fact the comforter often goes on to name the supposedly consoling thing, as in "There, there, she wasn't your type anyway" or "There, there, it's only money."

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RealityChuck/Boston Charlie
The First USA Noel


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The OED quotes examples dating to 1535:

quote:
1535 COVERDALE Ps. xxxiv. [xxxv.] 21 They gape vpon me with their mouthes, sayenge: there, there [1611 Aha, aha!]: we se it with oure eyes. 1596 SHAKES. Merch. V. III. i. 87 Why there, there, there, there, a diamond gone cost me two thousand ducats. 1606 Tr. & Cr. V. v. 43 Ajax. Troylus, thou coward Troylus. Diom. I, there, there.
The entry is:
quote:
7. Used interjectionally, usually to point (in a tone of vexation, dismay, derision, satisfaction, encouragement, etc.) to some fact, condition, or consummation, presented to the sight or mind.

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