origin of "more's the pity"

Discussion in 'English Only' started by susanna76, Nov 1, 2010.

  1. susanna76 Senior Member

    I came across "more's the pity" in Catherine Alliott's Not That Kind of Girl. There's a passage where she goes over an exchange between a salesperson and herself. The salesman asks which pack of Silk Cut cigarettes she'd prefer.

    'Please. Marvelous.'
    He grinned. 'Doesn't come with a guarantee, you know?'
    'More's the pity!'

    I learned the phrase means "unfortunately," and also found it in titles such as "More's the pity about the Tuttles' Farm." How does this phrase work though? How did it came to mean what it means?
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2010
  2. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    It is a set (or frozen) phrase with a usage of "more" that is now hardly used anywhere else. It literally means "the pity is greater (thereby)". Pity, here, meaning a matter for regret, or misfortune. In usage it seems to mean little more than "that is a shame", rather than "that (fact) increases the misfortune (of the situation)", which is what it more literally means.
  3. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    It's about the last surviving relic of the adjectival use of 'more' to mean "greater, bigger" (as opposed to the ordinary "a greater quantity of"); plus the count noun 'pity' meaning "an object or cause of being pitied", as also in 'what a pity' and 'it's a pity (that...)'. So it is a greater pity: a greater cause for pity.

    Edit. Matching Mole's explanation is really good too.
  4. susanna76 Senior Member

    It makes sense now. Thank you!
  5. alleysally New Member

    I just stumbled upon this site tonight while researching "more's the pity." My MS Word spell check wants to make it "mores'" (s apostrophe). I've learned not to take their spell check too seriously, but I'm wondering if this is an alternate version of "more's"?

    Great clarifications, I might add! I'm going to enjoy looking up terms such as "set (or frozen) phrase" and "count noun." (BTW, I'm never sure when the punctuation should go before the quotation mark! Any quick hints? Thanks in advance.)
    Love the Oscar Wilde quote . . . and the cleverly amusing avatars of the two main contributors, above. :D
  6. skipmars New Member

    English - USA
    I also found this site when looking up "the mores the pity," used in Chapter Five of Melville's "Moby Dick" in describing the humor of Ishmael's first night with Queequeg.

    "However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing; the mores the pity."
  7. pwmeek

    pwmeek Senior Member

    SE Michigan, USA
    English - American
    I rarely hear the preceding "the" these days. Perhaps it was the common way to say it in the time of Moby Dick. You might re-try the search without it.
  8. morzh

    morzh Banned

    I hear "More's the pity", without "The" in front.
  9. antonio_tav New Member

    Sorry to revive an old thread, but can someone tell me if a similar expression I found in the following passage (taken from Treasure Island) may be related?

    [A pirate is talking to a tavern's owner.]
    "This is a handy cove," says he at length; "and a pleasant sittyated grog-shop. Much company, mate?"
    My father told him no, very little company, the more was the pity.

    Does the tavern's keeper mean that it's a pity so few people are hanging around, or is it the opposite? The latter would be the meaning I got on a first read, but now I have some doubts about it.
  10. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    Stevenson here is converting direct speech to indirect speech, and removing any original elision.
    This is the correct traditional way to convert spoken English to recorded form.

    The original direct speech would probably have been:
    'My father told him, "No, very little company, the more's the pity".'

    'The more's the pity' means 'for that reason, the pity of it is all the greater'.
    'The pity of it' means 'the sadness of the situation'.

    To make the sense of '(the) more's the pity' fully explicit:

    'for that reason, the sadness of the situation (which was already great) becomes much greater'.
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2012
  11. antonio_tav New Member

    Thank you!

    Luckily I asked.

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