By the By: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
December 10, 2023

The expression "by the by" is a colloquial way of introducing a side note or an incidental remark within a conversation. It's akin to saying, "On a related note" or "Incidentally." The phrase is a casual transition to a slightly tangential topic and can be heard in casual chats and more formal discussions.

In short:

"By the by" refers to mentioning something casually or incidentally while discussing another topic.

What Does "By the By" Mean?

The phrase "by the by" is used when someone brings up a secondary or less critical point during a conversation. It's a way to touch upon another subject without diverting too far from the main topic.

  • It often signals a slight detour in conversation.
  • The idiom is similar in meaning to "by the way" or "incidentally."
  • It's commonly used in casual conversations to introduce a side note or an additional piece of information.

This idiom, though not as popular as some others, has its place in the English lexicon and serves as a smooth transition between topics in a conversation.

Where Does "By the By" Come From?

The term "by" in Old English had the meaning of "side" or "lateral," suggesting something that's off the main path. "By the by" would then translate to "by the side" or "on the side," indicating a deviation from the primary subject of discussion.

Historical Example

"On foreign station they have no possibility of obtaining one shilling that is due to them; which evil, by the by, surely might be remedied by the proper authorities..."

- an excerpt from The European Magazine and London Review, by the Philological Society of Lodon (1816).

10 Examples of "By the By" in Sentences

Understanding the usage of "by the by" becomes easier with practical examples.

  • We discussed our holiday plans and, by the by, also talked about the new restaurant downtown.
  • She mentioned her dog's health and, by the by, also spoke about her visit to the vet.
  • Way to go on that presentation, Jake! By the by, have you considered joining the debate team?
  • While discussing movies, he brought up, by the by, that he'd recently read a great book.
  • They chatted about the weather and, by the by, the upcoming town festival.
  • We talked about our kids, and by the by, she mentioned her son won an award.
  • I was buying groceries, and, by the by, I also found that unique spice you were looking for.
  • I mistakenly mixed those chemicals together; by the by, that's how I learned the hard way about their reaction.
  • We were discussing our fitness routines, and, by the by, she said she was joining a dance class.
  • While talking about our weekends, he mentioned, by the by, that he's planning a surprise for his wife.

Examples of "By the By" in Pop Culture

While "by the by" might not be the most commonly cited phrase in pop culture, it has made appearances in certain classics.

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "By the By"

Language is ever-evolving, and there are several ways to express the sentiment of "by the by."

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "By the By":

  • What does "by the by" mean?

It refers to bringing up something casually while discussing another topic.

  • Is "by the by" commonly used in modern English?

Despite not being as common as some other idioms, many English speakers are still able to recognize and understand them.

  • Can "by the by" and "by the way" be used interchangeably?

Yes, they often can be, as they serve similar functions in conversation.

  • Does "by the by" have variations in other languages?

Many languages have their own idioms to introduce side topics, though they may not translate directly.

  • Can "by the by" be used in formal writing?

It's best suited for conversational contexts rather than formal writing.

  • Why do people use "by the by" instead of directly stating the side topic?

It offers a smoother transition and indicates the secondary nature of the upcoming point.

  • How old is the idiom "by the by"?

Its origins trace back to Old English, making it centuries old.

  • Do younger generations understand "by the by"?

While it's less common among younger speakers, many still recognize and understand its meaning due to its presence in literature and media.

  • Is it "by the bye" or "by the by"?

Both versions exist, but "by the by" is more widely accepted.

  • Where can I find more examples of "by the by" in literature?

Classics by authors like Charles Dickens often contain this idiom, offering context for its usage.

Final Thoughts About "By the By"

"By the by" is a colloquial expression to introduce a side comment or transition to a slightly tangential topic. Whether you're sharing a fun fact in the middle of a conversation, making a related point in a discussion, or simply wanting to switch gears, it can be your go-to transitional phrase.

Here's a quick wrap-up:

  • This idiom is used to introduce a secondary point or topic.
  • Its origins date back to Old English, indicating its long-standing presence in the language.
  • While its usage has waned over time, it remains a recognized and valued phrase in English.

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