I'd sooner chew broken glass

James Brandon

Senior Member
English + French - UK
I am intrigued by the expression, used in the latest episode of TV period drama Downton Abbey (The Xmas Special).

The meaning is clear: "I'd rather die [= do anything] than do [XYZ]."

I was wondering whether the expression is common or not/ archaic or not. The TV drama is supposed to take place in the 1920s but I have found quite a few references to the expression on the internet.


  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    Hello, James Brandon. I hear the expression over here from time to time, and it certainly doesn't sound archaic to me. Of course, those who use it use it for dramatic effect when they talk about something disagreeable to them.


    English - Texas and Southern Dialect
    I don't hear the "broken glass" part in my area, but the word "sooner" is the part that indicates that this expression is being used.

    "I'd sooner run a mile naked"

    Sometimes some people will put the word "no" in front of sooner, but their meaning is still the same as in the first example.

    "I'd no sooner run a mile naked"

    Maybe a fellow Southerner could expand upon this?

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    Obviously, from a grammatical standpoint, "no" is not needed or justified, here. I suppose people would add it because they feel it is required to express a negative ("running a mile naked is not [actually] what I want or intend to do...").


    Senior Member
    English - England
    I have heard (not often) but not used such negative constructions as, "I'd no sooner run a mile naked [than do that]" which mean both options are equally abhorrent, as opposed to "I'd sooner run a mile naked [than do that]" that indicates that running a mile naked is preferable.

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    Paul, fair enough, in that case the "no" makes sense. The original expression my query was about is more straightforward: A is talking about doing XYZ, and B is listening and saying: "I'd sooner chew broken glass" = "I'd rather chew broken glass than do XYZ that you have just suggested".


    Senior Member
    English UK
    I think the "... chew broken glass" is just a variation on a theme, James.

    Blackadder has some classic examples:
    ~ Baldric, I'd sooner insert an abnormally large cactus up my bottom than go on holiday with you.
    ~ I’d rather have my tongue beaten thin with a steak tenderiser and then stapled to the floor with a croquet hoop.
    ~ I'd rather spend an evening on top of a stepladder in No Man's Land smoking endless cigarettes through a luminous balaclava.

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    Miss Julie, fair enough, that is probably a better way of rendering the meaning -- but whichever way, we get the drift and it simply means: "I would never do what you are talking about here."

    On the issue of variations on a theme, you can of course invent millions of expressions such as those you quote. My query was, really, is this one well known and frequently used or not? Can it be described as an idiom (since I suppose the meaning is not literal)?

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I see it the way Loob does: I'd sooner do [horrifying idea of your choice] = I'd rather not. The construction allows for creativity.
    I'd rather (AE) stick needles in my eyes.
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