Next Thing You Know: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
January 21, 2024

The phrase "next thing you know" is commonly used in storytelling or describing events. It implies a rapid or unexpected progression of events. The phrase often introduces a surprising or unforeseen outcome that follows from previous actions or situations.

In short:

  • It suggests a quick or surprising turn of events.
  • It's often used to describe a sequence of events that leads to an unexpected result.

What Does "Next Thing You Know" Mean?

The phrase "next thing you know" is used to indicate a sudden or surprising transition in a story or sequence of events. It's often used to describe how one thing led to another, usually in a way that was not anticipated. For example, someone might say, "I started chatting with the person next to me on the plane, and the next thing you know, we realized we were distant cousins!" This means that an unexpected connection or outcome occurred suddenly.

More about the phrase's meaning:

  • It is used to describe an unforeseen or rapid development in a situation.
  • The phrase is often used in casual conversation to add a sense of surprise or spontaneity.
  • It suggests a sequence of events that leads to a surprising or unplanned outcome.
  • This expression is common in storytelling, both in spoken and written form.
  • Similar phrases include "all of a sudden," "before you know it," and "out of the blue."

Where Does "Next Thing You Know" Come From?

The exact origin of the phrase "next thing you know" is not clearly documented, but it seems to have emerged in common language as a way of conveying rapid or surprising developments in a narrative. Its usage has been widespread in spoken English for several decades.

Historical Example

"They apologize for the campaign and side in. Next thing you know they lose an opportunity."

- Gleanings in Bee Culture, 1916

10 Examples of "Next Thing You Know" in Sentences

To understand how this phrase is commonly used, here are some examples from various situations:

  • He started learning guitar as a hobby, and next thing you know, he was playing in a band.
  • She went out for a quick walk, and next thing you know, she ran into an old friend she hadn't seen in years.
  • I was just tidying up the house, and next thing you know, I found my lost watch.
  • They started a small project together, and next thing you know, it turned into a successful business.
  • Start from scratch with a basic idea, and the next thing you know, you've created something innovative and impactful.
  • She began learning Spanish for fun, and next thing you know, she was planning a trip to Spain.
  • You must be careful with him. Next thing you know, he is reaping the benefits of your hard work.
  • I was casually browsing books, and next thing you know, I spent hours reading.
  • You thought you wouldn’t see him anytime soon, but the next thing you knew, he was at your doorstep.
  • She was just an intern, but next thing you know, she had to take the reins of the entire project.

Examples of "Next Thing You Know" in Pop Culture

This phrase is quite popular in movies, TV shows, and books, often used to highlight a surprising or rapid turn of events.

Let's look at some examples:

  • Jessica Strawser's novel "The Next Thing You Know" explores the emotional journey of an end-of-life doula and her young client, Mason.
  • In the movie "Tommy Boy," Tommy says: "Sorry, Ted, I guess I'm just trying to say something about the human condition. Maybe the next thing you know, there's money missing off the dresser, and your daughter's knocked up."
  • Jordan Davis's song "Next Thing You Know" lyrically portrays life's unexpected turns, from staying single to becoming a father.
  • "Next Thing You Know Productions" is known for its work on series like "A Million Little Things" and "Growing Up Fisher."

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "Next Thing You Know"

Here are some alternative phrases that express a similar idea:

  • Before you know it
  • All of a sudden
  • Out of the blue
  • In no time
  • Before I knew it
  • Suddenly
  • Without warning
  • Just like that
  • Without expecting it
  • Unbelievably

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Next Thing You Know":

  • What does "next thing you know" mean?

"Next thing you know" is a phrase used to describe a quick or unexpected progression of events, often leading to a surprising outcome.

  • How is "next thing you know" used in a sentence?

This phrase is used to introduce a surprising or unforeseen result in a story. For example: "I was just talking to her about books, and the next thing you know, we were at a bookstore buying novels."

  • Can "next thing you know" be used in formal writing?

It is more common in casual or conversational contexts. In formal writing, it's better to use more precise language to describe events or outcomes.

  • Is "next thing you know" an idiom?

Yes, it is an idiom, as it conveys its meaning through a figurative rather than literal interpretation.

  • Can "next thing you know" be used in past tense?

Yes, it can be used in past tense narratives to describe events that have already happened.

  • Is this phrase specific to any dialect of English?

No, it's widely understood and used in various forms of English, both in the UK and US, among others.

  • Does the phrase imply a positive or negative outcome?

The phrase is neutral; it can precede either positive or negative outcomes depending on the context of the story.

  • Can "next thing you know" be used in professional settings?

While it's more informal, it can be used in professional settings in a casual or conversational manner.

  • How does this phrase differ from "suddenly" or "all of a sudden"?

While similar, "next thing you know" often implies a series of events leading to an outcome, whereas "suddenly" and "all of a sudden" imply an abrupt change or occurrence.

  • Does "next thing you know" always need to be followed by an action or event?

Typically, yes. The phrase sets up an expectation for a subsequent event or action that completes the thought.

Final Thoughts About "Next Thing You Know"

The expression "next thing you know" is a common and versatile expression used to narrate a series of events leading to an unexpected result. It's useful in both spoken and written English and can make storytelling more engaging by adding an element of surprise.

To summarize:

  • It's a common phrase for introducing unexpected developments in a story.
  • The phrase is suitable for both casual and informal settings.
  • It is often used to make narratives more engaging and relatable.
  • "Next thing you know" can precede both positive and negative outcomes, making it a versatile tool in storytelling.

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