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In Indian English, the phrase Tom, Dick and Harry is very prevalent, is used quite frequently in media, movies etc.

On the other hand, I don't see it being used as frequently, in American media.

What phrase would an American use in its place?

Context,

Any tom, dick and harry can solve this problem.

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  • 35
    We say it in Britain too, in fact in probably came from here. May 25 at 6:38
  • 34
    As an AmE speaker, I would find this phrase perfectly understandable (if a bit old-fashioned.) May 25 at 14:29
  • 29
    From the Futurama episode, A Head In the Polls, "George H. W. Bush's head: Sorry, Bender, but we just can't allow every Tom, Dick, and Harry to move in. No offence, Jefferson, Nixon and Truman."
    – Kirk Woll
    May 25 at 15:39
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    ugh, I wanted to say that as an English speaker, that phrase is perfectly acceptable... and then realize I'm old.
    – CGCampbell
    May 25 at 16:23
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    Only difference I'd make would be to make it "Tom, Dick, or Harry" rather than "and", but maybe I'm just thinking of that song from Kiss Me, Kate. May 25 at 16:54

7 Answers 7

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As Michael Siefert says, this is both used and immediately recognizable in American English, but it would be generational, with the oldest speakers finding it natural, many or most middle-aged speakers finding it antiquated, and younger speakers likely being unfamiliar with it. The reason you are not seeing it in media is because the mass-media would focus on the middle demographic and so would only use it when they wanted to imply old-fashionedness.

Youth typically use 'literally' as an emphasizer, so young people would say "Literally anyone could solve this". However, that would be too slang to be used in mass media (although common in demographically targeted social media).

More recognizable alternatives include "Any Joe (or any regular Joe or any Joe Shmoe)," "any guy off the street", "any idiot", "any fool", and "anyone with half a brain". The first two emphasize how easy the problem is such that any common person has the ability to solve it, and the second three that even someone of limited ability would be able to solve it.

Other answers and comments have suggested 'everyone and their brother' or 'everyone and their dog'. I think there is a subtle distinction here between anyone and everyone, that is, between saying that the problem is so easy that a single person of the lowest common denominator could solve it, and saying it is so easy that every person in any given group would be able to solve it. I think this is the same distinction that Darrel Hoffman and gotube are drawing between 'Tom, Dick, or Harry' and 'Tom, Dick, and Harry', but I don't know if that distinction is used in Indian English or what the OP's original intent was.

Since I have just finished my yearly re-watch of GATTACA (I show it to my students) I feel I should include a quote from Jerome / Eugene:

That was the company that sell us your hair dye. They sent me ''summer wheat" instead of "honey dawn." Any fool knows it's two shades lighter.

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  • Yeah, in priority order I would suggest "any idiot" is #1 where crude/casual is okay and "anyone off the street" would be #2, perhaps with a "literally" thrown in before either of those phrases.
    – JamieB
    May 25 at 15:50
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    Hmm...the "Tom, Dick, and Harry" expression sounds quite normal to me...and I haven't thought of myself as 'old' yet...thanks for the insight :-)
    – Basya
    May 26 at 8:19
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    I'm approaching middle-age (at least, that's what they tell me), and I don't find it the least antiquated sounding. It's not common here in the States anymore, but I think most people would at least understand it even if they don't use it.
    – FreeMan
    May 26 at 16:07
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    Probably the Average Joe rather than any Joe.
    – Yorik
    May 26 at 19:21
  • Just wanted to throw in my experience here...I actually clicked this link on SE because I was curious what "Tom, Dick, and Harry" meant. I was born in 1989 in California and I exclusively speak English with Pacific Northwest/Northern Californian dialect. More generally I do occasionally hear slang in movies that I literally have never heard any person say in real life. So there might be some regional usage here. May 26 at 21:01
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A common casual phrase is "everyone and their brother". YourDictionary has the following definition:

(idiomatic) A large number of people; most people.

Similar phrases are "everyone and their dog" and "everyone and their mom". The general idea of all of these is that it doesn't require any special expertise -- "everyone" is interpreted as people familiar with the activity in question, but "their brother/mom/dog" would not be assumed to have similar experience. The variant with "dog" is especially broad, since most dogs can't do anything that humans are especially good at (but they have their own abilities that make up for it).

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    Or "anybody and their dog". Or "any Joe". Or several other variations on the theme. May 25 at 15:03
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    Also frequently "and their..." changed to whatever seems most ludicrous/made up at the time, eg "everyone and their granny"
    – freedomn-m
    May 25 at 15:15
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    "Everyone and their dog" means lots of people. "Any Tom, Dick or Harry" refers to only one arbitrary person.
    – gotube
    May 25 at 18:43
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    @gotube I think they both have the same meaning when the rest of the sentence is "can solve this problem". No one would think that you mean that this means everyone is working together to solve the problem.
    – Barmar
    May 25 at 21:17
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    The nuance here is a little different, I think. "Everyone and ..." phrases are more commonly used to talk about what is popular or fashionable. May 26 at 22:50
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One could simply say

Anybody/anyone could solve this problem.

As "tom, dick and harry" refers to an ordinary person in general. Usually in most cases, "anybody/anyone" is used to describe the general public/people.

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I would suggest that a similar phrase would be: Average Joe

An excerpt from Wikipedia's page on the term includes:

used primarily in North America to refer to a completely average person, typically an average American. It can be used both to give the image of a hypothetical "completely average person"

In the example given in your question, it would be used like:

The average Joe can solve this problem.

Or some similar phrasings:

Your average Joe can solve this problem.

Any average Joe can solve this problem.

Kirt mentions "Joe" in their answer, but I think that specifically an average Joe is equivalent.

"Average Joe" is the first item listed in the "See also" section of the Wikipedia page for "Tom, Dick, and Harry".

"Average Joe" is on this list of terms referring to an average person, on which is also found "Tom, Dick, and Harry": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_terms_referring_to_an_average_person

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    An 'average Joe' represents some populational median, though - whereas any Tom, Dick [or] Harry is more inclusive, specifically more inclusive of the bottom end on whatever scale you are using. The average Joe could be expected to solve common problems, including those too difficult for anyone.
    – Kirt
    May 26 at 0:06
  • Note this is purely an American usege. It is not British English
    – mmmmmm
    May 26 at 14:26
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It is native English, so it would be perfectly understandable as is, although or is used more frequently. It just means "anyone". It can be used with "any old" as well (which is the form familiar to me).

Any Tom, Dick and Harry [unexpected people] can walk across my lawn.

I'll just get any old Tom, Dick or Harry [anyone will do] to paint the shed.

It is considered outdated, but actually increasing in usage since about 2000. The Google Ngram viewer illustrates this, although note the form with commas cannot be searched due to limitations in the crude nature of that company's "advanced" search features.

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They'd probably say; "any old Joe".

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There's an interesting usage of that, showing (IMHO) what to make of it, nowadays:

In a translation from Chaucer's "Canterbury tales" (middle English → modern English), we read in the original of the friar's tale:

He had eke wenches at his retinue, also prostitutes
That whether that Sir Robert or Sir Hugh,
Or Jack or Ralph or whoso that it were
That lay by them, they told it in his ear.

The translation says

Moreover, he had harlots at command, and so, if Reverend Robert, or Reverend Hugh, Tom, Dick, or Harry, or whoever, had one of them, it reached the summoner's ear".

So it just means an arbitrary list of names, potential customers of "wenches"="harlots". And, being used as a translation of this ancient tale, it carries the notion of "a bit ancient".

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