The "run-of-the-mill" (average or ordinary / etymologyy) entry on Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary contains a reference to "often disapproving". The "garden-variety" (not unusual; ordinary or common / etymology) entry doesn't, but mentions "always used before a noun US". The latter can be found as a synonym of the former; and vice versa, but to a lesser extent.

Are those differences correct and generally acknowledged by the native speaker and are there further differences between "run-of-the-mill" and "garden-variety" I should be aware of (intensity, usage, register, categories of objects it can relate to etc.)?

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    I would say that "run-of-the-mill" is not necessarily disapproving, but it does imply no better than average, and possibly worse than average quality. "Garden-variety", however, implies only that the item is of a type commonly/easily found. You might want to also compare "dime a dozen", which connotes cheapness as well as easy availability; or "plain vanilla", which means unadorned and unmodified—the standard edition. May 20, 2015 at 5:46
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    Run-of-the-mill definitely suggests humdrum (dullness), whereas garden variety does not.
    – user6951
    May 20, 2015 at 14:54

1 Answer 1


The main difference as you suggested is the tone associated with the phrases. "run-of-the-mill" definitely suggests a more dull, negative tone than "garden-variety" does. However, I have seen Americans use them interchangeably, whether it was on purpose or just because of ignorance I do not know. Eg: The novel I read was a run-of-the-mill detective thriller. (versus) This garden-variety dress robe would blend in with any decor.

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