I've got a TL for you [Trade Last]


New Member
English - Ireland
I came across this phrase in the 1950 film "Never a Dull Moment". Character A approaches Character B to tell her that his friend, Character C, finds her attractive...

A: Howdy ma'm
B: Oh howdy! What can I do for you?
A: Well it's me that's doin' the doin', miss. [Facial expression: about to tell a joke/riddle] I've got a TL for ya!
B: Really! [Expression: amused, curious, tell me the punchline!] What is it!

I've never heard this before, but it was in a mainstream film so I assume that its viewers in 1950 would have understood the phrase. A Google search says that the phrase also came up in some Bob Hope/Bing Crosby movies, and one or two websites offer an explanation that raises as many questions as it answers.

The proposed explanation is that TL stands for "trade-last", which is a noun defined as: "a compliment that I heard about you that I offer to trade for a compliment you have heard about me". That might be consistent with the usage in the film, with the difference, which may be important and may not be, that no reciprocal compliment was offered or expected - the compliment was just passed on gratis.

Among the questions raised by the proposed explanation are... How did "trade-last" come to mean "an overheard compliment offered in exchange for same"? It's such an odd concept in the first place, and it's not an obvious name to give it. Does it have any commercial meaning that might have been carried over? And how it came to be abbreviated is even more mysterious - it's hard to believe that "trade-last" was understood widely enough and used frequently enough that when abbreviated it to TL it was obvious to listeners what was meant.

Is there anyone here who's used or heard the phrase, and who can shed any light on what was meant and understood?
  • Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I've never heard of this (or if I have, it went over my head). I agree that it is an odd concept, but the phrase makes some sense when you consider that the person offering such an exchange demands the compliment from the listener first, and gives his or her trade last. It strikes me as being something like a parlour game, although one with limited possibilities.

    Dictionaries say it dates from around 1890, and this usage is from 1950. The OED helpfully points out that it is also used in a weakened sense to simply mean a compliment, with no exchange implied, and I take this to be the usage in your example. It seems possible that by 1950 the weakened sense had taken over from the slightly convoluted original.

    I wonder if this is still used by anyone today.


    New Member
    English - Ireland
    "I'll trade you [this compliment] last" makes a lot more sense.

    I was thinking it might be a from a schoolyard game or a radio game show, but if the phrase originated in parlour game from the 1890s, it fits very well with the coy and flirtatious tone of the usage in the film. And coyness might have been the motivation for the abbreviation to TL. This is, of course, based on the assumption that people from the 1890s were coy.

    The evolved meaning of "one-way compliment" does fit the usage in the film.


    New Member
    My mother used a variation of this...her version was. "I'll trade last compliments with you.", which no one gets until I explain it to them...I've never found any one else that uses it or has heard it...


    Senior Member
    English - United States
    Seems like it's one of those things that died with the concept of courtship in general.


    Senior Member
    English from the North of England
    If he was indeed proposing to tell a joke, might he perhaps be refering to the joke and indicating its length to elicit patience?
    "Have you heard this two-liner?
    - What's brown and smelly and comes steaming out of Cowes?
    - The Isle of Wight ferry."



    New Member
    I just emailed (thoroughly modern) my friend and wrote, "I have a T.L. (Remember those from your grandmother's day?) Oh, well, here it is, anyway." then proceeded to tell her the compliment I heard. Unfortunately, my friend was unfamiliar with the expression, which I learned from my mother and my aunts in rural Washington State back in the 1950s. It means "I will tell you a compliment I heard about you, but first, you have to tell me a compliment you heard about me." The other person then comes up with a compliment they heard about you. Sometimes, the initiator may not hold out for the return compliment, as was the case with my email, today, but it's more fun when it goes both ways. It was not a parlor game, just a friendly exchange. I've never heard a man use this expression, just women and girls. I doubt men would use it with each other, but possibly a man with a woman. I never knew what the T. and L. stood for, which is why I looked it up and found this forum.


    New Member
    English - US
    I have been trying to remember this term for several years. My mother used it all the time. This was back in the 1950's when she would hear a compliment about me she would say "trade last" I don't think she said T.L. Thanks for coming up with this.


    New Member
    In the Lillian Hellman play The Children's Hour it occurs make this a link (Click)

    Moderator additions below:

    To quote one of the answers on the link above:
    "T. L." is an old abbreviation (originating in the 17th century) that is meant to signify the intent that something is meant to remain a secret. The "T" is the initial for the Latin word "tace," to "be silent." The "L" represents the Latin origin. So, "T. L.," or "Tace is Latin," is a way of conveying a message that is meant to be a secret. Check out the link below for a more historical description.

    And below that answer was this link which provides more, and similar, information too long to quote.

    Thank you for those links. :thumbsup:
    Last edited by a moderator:


    New Member
    I have heard this phrase in old radio shows, as well. But the "compliment" or "one way compliment" explanation doesn't fit the contexts in which it occurred. The phrase "I've got a flash for you" would be a closer fit in these contexts. This would seem to be more consistent with the note that explains it as an alert, perhaps on the sarcastic side, that what is about to be said is a secret.


    Senior Member
    English - AmE
    When I grew up (in New York), a "TL" was a repeat of a compliment that someone had heard about you from a third party. The letters stood for Tuchis Leck, which is Yiddish for "ass lick." In other words, the offerer of the TL was going to "ass-kiss" the person by telling him/or her something nice that he/she had heard said about the person.


    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    In Pennsylvania, as most of the other places mentioned, it meant "Trade Last" = We'll trade compliments. You first: You tell me something nice you heard about me, then I'll tell you something nice I heard about you.


    New Member
    English- USA
    I have friends that use it. The whole family including college aged kids use it. I thought their family made it up. They say trade last, never just TL. It is a nice thing... But it is from a third party (making it sweeter because it wasn't directly said to you). This family learned it from the grandmother (great grand to the college kids). They teach it to their good friends. So it is still in use is a few places.