November 3, 2017
I like her because she’s down to earth.
Whenever I heard the phrase “down to earth,” I usually associated it with Jo Polniaczek from Facts of Life. When she was first introduced, she was a rough-around-the-edges tomboy, but she was plain-spoken and honest. And although she softened a bit as she got older, she was always relatable and likeable.
What Does ‘Down to Earth’ Mean?
It’s very easy to decipher the meaning of the term “down to earth,” based on how it’s used. And it’s a phrase that can be hyphenated at times.
Today, the phrase “down to earth” is usually used to describe a person who has a good head on their shoulders. Someone who is down to earth is very practical, humble, and reasonable. They try to focus on what is in front of them and tend to be rather blunt at times.
There is another meaning, though. When the phrase was first used, it described “reasonable and affordable” prices.
When Was the Phrase ‘Down to Earth’ Coined?
The origin of the phrase is unclear, but the early known uses of it suggest it was coined in the early part of the 20th century.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the phrase “down-to-earth” originated in 1932. Yet I knew that was wrong because this was not the first source I consulted.
My first stop was actually the Know Your Phrase website, which showed two early uses of it and an example of the phrase’s use.
The first example of the early use of “down to earth” came from the Newark Advocate in 1922. There was a section in the newspaper that dealt with women’s clothing:
Here are four groups of worth-while garments at ‘down to earth’ prices.
The term “down to earth” was placed in quotations. And as many an etymological expert will tell you, that suggests the phrase was relatively new.
The second example came from the Sandusky Star Journal in 1935:
And, while our fashions are as new as tomorrow, our prices are the good down-to-earth prices that save you money.
Where Did That 1932 Mention Come From?
It was likely in reference to a film.
At Quora, one thread asked the following question: “What is the origin of the phrase ‘down to earth’?” There were only two answers when I checked. The second response pointed to the Know Your Phrase page I already found. The first answer pointed to an archived article from The New York Times. I followed that link.
On September 2, 1932, Mordaunt Hall summarized and critique the film entitled Down to Earth for The New York Times. The film, the sequel to They Had to See Paris (1929), starred Will Rogers (LoBianco). Mr. Rogers played the main character, Pike Peters who suffered due to the extravagant tastes and free-spending nature of his wife. Near the end of the play, Mr. Peters was finally able to be more like himself (or the way he was before his family struck it rich).
This little tale, which evidently pleased the audience, turns out happily, with Pike wearing an apron while he cooks a meal. He is at last freed from the gaze of the omnipresent butler. He is down to earth.
“Down to Earth.” Know Your Phrase. Web. Retrieved 3 Nov 2017. <http://www.knowyourphrase.com/phrase-meanings/Down-to-Earth.html>.
Hall, Mordaunt “Pike and Mike Hold Forth Again in Will Rogers’s New Comedy of Butlers and Bankrupts.” The New York Times. 2 Sept 1932. Archived Retrieved from the Web; 3 Nov 2017. <http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9E05E6D81231E633A25751C0A96F9C946394D6CF>.
Harper, Douglas. “down.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Web. Retrieved 3 Nov 2017. <https://www.etymonline.com/word/down>.
Harper, Douglas. “down-to-earth.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Web. Retrieved 3 Nov 2017. <https://www.etymonline.com/word/down-to-earth>.
LoBianco, Lorraine. “DOWN TO EARTH (1932).” Turner Movie Classics. Web. Retrieved 3 Nov 2017. <http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/353645%7C0/Down-to-Earth.html>.
Various. “The Origin of the Phrase ‘down to earth.’” Quora. Last Updated 11 Sept 2014. Web. <https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-origin-of-the-phrase-down-to-earth>.