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old chestnut

A stale joke, story, or saying, as in Dad keeps on telling that old chestnut about how many psychiatrists it takes to change a light bulb. This expression comes from William Dimond's play, The Broken Sword (1816), in which one character keeps repeating the same stories, one of them about a cork tree, and is interrupted each time by another character who says “Chestnut, you mean . . . I have heard you tell the joke twenty-seven times and I am sure it was a chestnut.”
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Examples from the Web for old chestnut
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Historical Examples
  • Of course the old chestnut was dying; but that did not concern the noctules.

    "Wee Tim'rous Beasties" Douglas English
  • I'm not going to be trotting out that old chestnut at every dinner party.

    My New Curate P.A. Sheehan
  • Some one has stolen a store of nuts from the hollow in the old chestnut tree.

    Old Mother West Wind Thornton W. Burgess
  • I suppose that old chestnut has just got round to your club.

    A Safety Match

    Ian Hay
  • Sprouts in old chestnut clearings are often allowed to remain, and sometimes they are grafted to the improved varieties.

  • “There,” said Tim, pointing to where the dog still sat shivering near the old chestnut woman.

    Our Frank Amy Walton

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