The idiom “Tell it to the Marines” has a fascinating history, deeply rooted in the maritime traditions of the British Royal Marines. Its origin is often traced back to the 17th century, during the reign of King Charles II of England. At this time, the Royal Marines, an elite fighting force, were known for their adventurous spirit and their unique role as both soldiers and sailors.
The full phrase from which this idiom originated was “Tell it to the marines because the sailors won’t believe you.” It reflects a time when sailors, who spent extensive periods at sea, were considered more worldly and experienced than marines, who primarily served as soldiers on naval vessels. Sailors were known for their skepticism when it came to hearing incredible stories or tall tales.
In contrast, Marines, often stationed on the same ships, were seen as less experienced in the ways of the sea and more likely to believe exaggerated or fantastical accounts. This perception gave rise to the idiom, suggesting that if someone had an unbelievable story to tell, they should direct it to the Marines because sailors, with their greater knowledge of the sea, would naturally be more skeptical.
Over time, the idiom evolved, and the “because the sailors won’t believe you” part was dropped, leaving only “Tell it to the Marines.” This shortened phrase still conveys doubt or disbelief, implying that the person being addressed should seek a more gullible audience for their story.
The idiom “Tell it to the Marines” is a testament to the rich linguistic history associated with military and naval traditions. It showcases the unique roles and perceptions of Marines and sailors during the era of sailing ships and adds a touch of humor to expressions of skepticism or incredulity.
Today, this idiom is used in English-speaking countries to express doubt or to humorously challenge the credibility of a story or statement. It’s a reminder of the enduring influence of historical context on our language and the colorful origins of everyday phrases. So, the next time you hear an incredible tale, you might playfully respond with, “Tell it to the Marines!”