Doesn't Add Up: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
July 19, 2023

The idiom "doesn't add up" typically conveys a sense of inconsistency, disbelief, or puzzlement in the face of a situation that seems to defy logic, expectations, or the sum of its parts. This idiom is used when the facts in a situation or the components of an argument don't come together to form a coherent or believable whole. It underscores the importance of coherence and credibility in mathematical equations and life's puzzling situations.

In short:

  • The idiom "doesn't add up" is used when something is inconsistent, confusing, or fails to meet expectations, implying a sense of logical or numerical discrepancy.
  • Literally, it can refer to a mathematical sum that doesn't equate correctly.
  • Figuratively, it signifies a scenario, argument, or situation that lacks coherence, believability, or logical consistency.

What Does "Doesn't Add Up" Mean?

When someone says, "it doesn't add up," they're likely using the phrase in its figurative sense. The expression often conveys doubt, confusion, or suspicion about a situation or explanation. It can refer to anything from a math problem to a complex social situation, suggesting that something is off, contradictory, or inconsistent. For example, someone might say, “it doesn’t add up,” after discovering a discrepancy in a budget or hearing a lie or an excuse.

Key elements of the idiom's meaning include:

  • "Doesn't add up" conveys a sense of incongruity or disbelief when something doesn't meet the expected outcome or logical standards.
  • It often suggests skepticism or doubt toward a story, argument, or situation that seems inconsistent or implausible.
  • You can use it when you're assessing a situation that doesn't align with your expectations or known facts.
  • The phrase originates from the mathematical context, meaning a sum that does not compute correctly but has been extended to denote logical inconsistencies in general contexts.
  • Some similar expressions to "doesn't add up" include "doesn't make sense," "doesn't compute," and "doesn't tally."

Where Does "Doesn't Add Up" Come From?

The phrase "doesn't add up" derives from mathematics, where adding up refers to the summing of numbers to obtain a total. If the sum isn't correct, it literally "doesn't add up." Eventually, this phrase has been metaphorically extended to general use, symbolizing situations where details, facts, or components fail to come together in a logical or plausible manner. People often use this phrase when they find inconsistencies in a story, when the pieces of information don't fit together, or when something simply doesn't seem believable.

Historical Examples

"It just does not add up. It does not make sense. I want to alert you — of course, you are alerted — and some of us who are not only friendly, but deeply concerned about it, just cannot quite understand what is going on."

- Statistical Abstract of the United States , 1916

"It just doesn't make sense, gentlemen, it doesn't add up."

- Hearings Before the Committee on Naval Affairs, United States Senate, Seventy-seventh Congress, 1941

10 Examples of "Doesn't Add Up" in Sentences

Here are ten examples of "doesn't add up" utilized in sentences and varying contexts:

  • The numbers just don’t add up when it comes to attracting new customers.
  • The evidence in this case doesn't add up. We need to reexamine it.
  • She said she loved him but fell out of love with him overnight. It doesn’t add up.
  • His explanation for his tardiness doesn't add up; I think he's hiding something.
  • I’ve tried everything, but to no avail - something just doesn’t add up.
  • I’m sorry, but your explanation just doesn’t add up - stop spamming me.
  • The company's finances don't add up. We suspect there's been some embezzlement.
  • To each, his own, but something about this situation just doesn’t add up.
  • The dark horse candidate’s story just doesn’t add up.
  • The timeline of events doesn't add up. I think there's more to this story.

Examples of "Doesn't Add Up" in Pop Culture

Given its universal applicability to situations involving confusion, disbelief, or inconsistency, the phrase "doesn't add up" often appears in pop culture, including films, television series, and literature.

Here are a few examples:

  • In the movie "The Accountant," starring Ben Affleck, the main character frequently says things "don't add up" when discovering financial discrepancies in the companies he audits.
  • "It Just Doesn't Add Up: Explaining Dyscalculia" by Paul Moorcraft is a groundbreaking book that offers insight into dyscalculia, a condition related to math disabilities, from the perspective of someone who personally experiences it.
  • Here's a quote from the 2015 book "Escaping the Facede of Freedom": "It just doesn't add up to have people living as islands of pride supporting themselves & no other; it doesn't make sense to have people in denial of everyone but themselves."

Other/Different Ways to Say "Doesn't Add Up"

There are several alternatives to expressing the sentiment of the idiom.

Here are a few examples:

  • Doesn't make sense
  • Doesn't compute
  • Doesn't tally
  • Doesn't square
  • Fails to align
  • Seems inconsistent
  • Something fishy
  • Doesn't come together
  • Doesn't hold water

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Doesn't Add Up":

  • What does "doesn't add up" mean?

This idiom can mean two things. First, it's used when numbers or amounts don't sum to the expected total. Secondly, it's applied when a situation or explanation doesn't seem logical, plausible, or believable.

  • What is the origin of the "doesn't add up"?

The phrase "doesn't add up" originates from the mathematical context where numbers don't result in the correct or expected sum. It has since been used figuratively to express suspicion or disbelief.

  • How can I use "doesn't add up" in a sentence?

You can use "doesn't add up" when expressing doubt or suspicion. For instance, " I tried to inquire about their whereabouts, but it doesn't add up why they won't respond."

  • Is "doesn't add up" used only in mathematical contexts?

No, while "doesn't add up" originated from mathematical contexts, it is now widely used in various situations to denote any circumstance that seems inconsistent or implausible.

  • Are there other idioms similar to "doesn't add up"?

Yes, similar idioms include "doesn't compute," "doesn't tally," and "doesn't make sense."

  • Does it have a  negative connotation?

Not necessarily. The phrase "doesn't add up" merely expresses a lack of understanding or coherence. The connotation depends on the context in which it's used.

  • Is using "doesn't add up" in formal writing okay?

Yes, "doesn't add up" can be used in both formal and informal writing, as long as it suits the context.

  • Does "doesn't add up" imply an actual mathematical operation?

No, "doesn't add up" is typically used figuratively. It represents an inconsistency or implausibility in a situation, statement, or series of events rather than a literal mathematical operation.

  • Can one use it in a personal context?

Yes, "doesn't add up" can be used in a personal context to describe anything that appears inconsistent or doesn't make sense, such as an event or someone's behavior.

  • Can "doesn't add up" be associated with skepticism?

Yes, "doesn't add up" is often used to express skepticism or doubt about the validity or truthfulness of a situation or statement.

Final Thoughts About "Doesn't Add Up"

The phrase "doesn't add up" is a useful idiom that we can use to express our doubts, confusions, or suspicions about a situation. Whether used in a mathematical context or applied to describe a puzzling scenario, it underscores our innate desire for things to make sense, follow a logical pattern, or be consistent.

Here's a quick summary:

  • "Doesn't add up" can express either a discrepancy in numerical calculation or the illogicality or implausibility of a situation or explanation.
  • This idiom is used in various contexts beyond just mathematics.
  • It can be used to express personal doubts or suspicions.
  • Similar idioms include "doesn't compute," "doesn't tally," and "doesn't make sense."

Remember, saying something "doesn't add up" when things seem off or inconsistent is perfectly okay. It's an essential part of critical thinking and problem-solving in daily life.

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