What Does It Mean to Get Something "for a Song"?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

When a person purchases something for very little money or for less than he thought he would have to spend, he may tell others about his good fortune by saying he got it for a song. This basically just means that he purchased it cheaply. The phrase is an idiom, or figurative expression, that is commonly used in some places. Usually, however, it is used in casual speech and in situations in which friendly, figurative speech is considered acceptable. A person is, for example, more likely to use an idiom when speaking to friends than he is when speaking to an interviewer while applying for a job.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Many people are thrilled when they are able to purchase something cheaply. For example, an individual may appreciate a new pair a shoes if he likes the style, but he may be even more appreciative if he can buy a pair of shoes he likes for a lower-than-normal price. When a person purchases something for cheaper than normal, he may say that he purchased it for song. This is basically just an interesting, figurative way of saying he got it cheaply.

It is important to note that a person is unlikely to understand what "for a song" means if he is not from a region in which the phrase is commonly used. Idioms tend to be specific to particular regions. As such, a person who lives in one region may be familiar with most, if not all, of the idioms that are commonly used there but not understand any of those used in other regions. For this reason, idioms sometimes must be defined or explained for travelers or those from outside the area.

There are many examples a person can consider when he is trying to understand what "for a song" means. One example could involve a person who has been complemented on a sleek sports car he has recently purchased. The new owner may be pleased that the person is admiring his car and want to share the low price for which he was able to purchase it. In such a case, he may say that he bought the car for a song rather than simply stating that he purchased it cheaply. To some people, the use of the idiom may make the conversation seem more interesting or colorful.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


I always thought the meaning of getting something "for a song" was that the buyer only had to sing an entertaining song for the seller. It was more like "in exchange for a song" in my head. The song still had some value to the seller, but it wasn't necessarily about the money. Why is it a song in the idiom and not some entertainment like a dance or a smile?

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