been there, done that

This is a catchphrase of Australian origin that expresses boredom and a bit of world weariness, a modern I have seen the elephant.

While it’s believed to have originated in Australia, the earliest known use of the phrase in print is from the United States, in a 1982 Associated Press story:

Miss Tewes, who has just divorced, says she doesn’t plan to get married at this time. Using an Australian expression, she says, “Been there, done that.”1

The first known Australian use in print is from the Sydney Union Recorder of 4 October 1983:

We’ve been there done that and felt on those dark days, mid-second term—that we were one of the (always) black clad figures attempting to fuck up the back at the movies.

It was added to the Australian Macquarie Dictionary of New Words in 1983, so it is presumed to have been common in Australian speech at this time, even if it did not appear in published sources.

The phrase been there, without the done that, is a bit older. It has had currency since the mid-1970s and is not particularly Australian in origin. From the 1975 novel Carlito’s Way, by Edwin Torres:

Money is only an object. I’ll get it. Got it, been there.2

Sometime in the early 1990s, people expanded the phrase for emphasis, changing it to been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

The phrase took off in the United States in 1994 due to its use in advertisements for Mountain Dew soda.

1Jerry Buck, “‘Love Boat’ Cruise Director Books Passage for 2 Years,” Herald-American (Syracuse, NY), 21 Feb 1982, City Edition, Stars: 31.

2New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, v. I & II, edited by Tom Dalzell and Terry Victor (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2006), 125.

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