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What Does "Been There, Done That" Mean?

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  • Written By: Laura Metz
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2016
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“Been there, done that” is an idiom used to signify that the speaker has experienced the topic being discussed. It typically indicates boredom with the topic, although occasionally the phrase is used to show experience and resulting authority on the subject. Many people have expanded this idiom in a multitude of ways since it was popularized throughout America in the 1990s.

The most common expansion of this idiom is “been there, done that, got the t-shirt.” T-shirts are popular souvenirs at hundreds of tourist destinations throughout the world. The phrase indicates that the speaker has a full experience of the topic, even to getting souvenirs of it. Other versions include “got the mug” or “got the magnet.”

Places such as amusement parks and tourist destinations, as well as vacation activities such as scuba diving or climbing a mountain were probably the original topics referred to by “been there, done that.” Many books have been published with this phrase in the title, including novels, memoirs, and self-help books. Topics include romance, education, business, and investing. Instead of using the phrase to denote boredom, these authors use it to promote their authority on the subject.

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This phrase is typically considered to be an American idiom, although it can be heard around the world. The earliest known instance of the phrase in print occurred in a New York newspaper in February 1982, but that newspaper says the phrase originated in Australia. This is contrary to Australian media history, because the phrases didn't appear in print there until 1983.

Regardless of where the phrase originated, it was popularized throughout the United States during the 1990s by a television commercial. In an advertisement by PepsiCo, four adventurous young men talk about how they are bored with the world, having already “been there, done that” for just about everything. Then, they drink Mountain Dew and discover new things to do, including racing a cheetah to rescue a bottle of the soft drink from it. This commercial made the phrase common throughout the U.S.

Although “been there, done that” became very popular during the 1990s, some people claim it is already a cliché. The phrase “seen it, heard it” carries basically the same meaning, although it carries the idea of a concert or movie, as opposed to a tourist destination. “Ennui” is a similar older word, derived from French, meaning boredom and exhaustion. A person is said to have ennui when they have many ways to entertain themselves but are bored with all of them.

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