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Why 'Quick and Dirty' Tips?

Grammar Girl's mom often used the phrase "quick and dirty," and it may be more common in the Pacific Northwest than in other parts of the United States.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
August 24, 2018
Episode #635
A quick and dirty boat building contest banner

Yael, who left a nice review on Apple podcasts, asked a question I get asked a lot.

“I get that these tips are quick, but how are they dirty? Has that been explained in a past episode? I have been listening for the past year and have never had that question answered.”

Thanks, Yael. I’ve explained it in interviews, but I don’t think I’ve ever explained it in the podcast. 

Here’s the story: When I was growing up, my mom would always use the phrase “quick and dirty” for something that was just the essentials. For example, she might say, “Min, let’s do a quick and dirty job on these dishes before we watch TV,” and we’d get things loaded in the dishwasher and probably get an especially dirty pan soaking in the sink, but we wouldn’t completely finish doing the dishes. 

To me, doing a quick dirty job meant getting the most important parts done and the parts that would set you up for an easier time in the future.

I haven’t been able to verify this, but I have a feeling it might be a regional saying or more popular in the Pacific Northwest where I grew up. For example, most people I encountered in the early years didn’t seem familiar with the phrase, but when I visited Seattle in 2008 and was walking on the waterfront, I came across a banner for a Quick and Dirty Boat Building Contest. It appeared that people had just a few hours to build a boat out of plywood and then they saw whose would float the farthest.

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When I was starting the Quick and Dirty Tips podcast network way back in 2006, most podcasts were really long, and I wanted a description that let people know that these were short tips that had the most important information—the stuff you really needed, the stuff you’d find most useful and helpful. 

Originally the podcast usually clocked in at less than five minutes, but people said over and over that they wanted more, so eventually I added segments and let some of them be longer. Those are what I call the meaty middles—“meaty” implying that they are more hearty or complete. And then the tidbits are segments that aren’t quite as useful, but they’re still interesting. For example, segments that talk about why we use certain phrases, like saying something bad is “beyond the pale” or saying someone who is sad is “in the doldrums,” I call those segments tidbits to distinguish them from the more how-to oriented Quick and Dirty Tips.

That’s why the network is call the Quick and Dirty Tips podcast network, and that’s why my short segments are called Quick and Dirty Tips.

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