Review 2006

Neil from Tachyon TV asks:
Why do people say "cheap at half the price" when they mean the full price is also, well, cheap? Makes no sense to me!

"Cheap at half the price" is one of those idiums which is frequently asked about online but no one seems to be able to give a valid explanation for. Most of the articles I've read in attempting to prepare this answer are the literary equivalent of chasing your own tail, with this oft linked to posting agreeing that it must have some origin and proper meaning but with those facts being obscured.

There are over twenty thousand usages in google and many of them seem to be in totally different contexts and means. Either it's something expensive being bought on the cheap or it's cheap and therefore excellent value - which I think is only just about the same. The Phrase Finder suggests that in this case 'cheap' refers not to price but the quality - in other words it would be cheap quality no matter what price it is. I don't like that and I don't believe anyone uses it in that context.

There are pop culture references. The late Roy Kinear starred in a pilot for a sitcom with the phrase for a title, about an antiques shop owner who's held back from his dream of becoming Lovejoy by his wife. Fred Frith released an album with that title too, although as with the sitcom the title doesn't appear to have an extra level of meaning other than bland recognition.

Frankly, I'm stumped. Any ideas?

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