If I had a nickel for every time…
Alex is 24 years old; he was born in New Jersey, but was raised and lived the majority of his childhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He arrived in California for the first time when he was moving into his dorm room at USC in Los Angeles, California. Currently, Alex is an alumni from USC with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.
Alex told me this idiom when he and I were talking about a friend of his who promised to pay him back. At that moment he said, “If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that…” He says that what this means to him is that he hears comments like this – promises to pay him back – often and that if he had a nickel for every time he heard it, he would be rich. He told me that he doesn’t remember who he heard this from or in what context, but he remembers what he felt about it. He found it amusing and began saying the phrase himself.
Essentially the phrase is an abbreviation for : “If I had a nickel for every time that happened, I’d be rich.” This hyperbole is an exaggeration that essentially is an indirect way for one to complain about the frequency of certain comments.
I had heard of this idiom before; however, when I heard it, I heard “penny” instead of “nickel.” This monetary value can be substituted, and it has been with other forms of money such as “dollar” or “quarter.” I do not remember who I heard this from or in what context, but I think I was still in middle school. Just as Alex stated a part of the phrase without completing it, I have often heard this idiom as a fragment. This is because people generally understand the idiom and immediately understand what the speaker means by the fragment alone.
This idiom is also seen here:
Roach, A. (2011). If i had a nickel for every time. Retrieved from http://www.usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/if+i+had+a+nickel+for+every+time.html