What Does Tell it to the Marines Mean?

Tell it to the Marines Meaning

Definition: I don’t believe you; try fooling someone more gullible.

Origin of Tell it to the Marines

This expression is a catchphrase that is British in origin. While it might sound American, it does not refer to the U.S. Marine Corps. Instead, it refers to the Royal Marines.

It first appeared in the year 1804, in the novel called The Post Captain; or the Wooden Walls Manned; Comprehending a View of Naval Society and Manners, written by John Davis.

  • He may tell that to the marines, but the sailors will not believe him.

In the book, one of the characters hears a story that he doesn’t believe. That character tells the other to tell his story to the marines because the sailors of the navy won’t believe it.

To understand this, it is important to note that there sometimes exists a rivalry between the different branches of the military. The navy sailors used this expression as way to call the marines gullible.

Occasionally people would use this catchphrase as a way to say that the marines would fix any problem, no matter how great. However, the more enduring definition is one of being incredulous about something.

Examples of Tell it to the Marines

tell that to the marines meaning In the conversation below, two friends are discussing a rumor.

Scott: You’ll never believe what I heard.

Tony: What was it?

Scott: I heard that Roger is taking steroids! That’s why he gained so much muscle so quickly.

Tony: Oh, sure. That makes total sense since he’s such a health nut. He won’t even eat sugar!

Scott: I don’t appreciate your sarcasm. I think he really is taking steroids!

Tony: Tell that to the marines. There’s no way that is true.

tell that to the marines poster meaning Two coworkers use the expression while talking about their children.

Richard: My son learned to read when he was just one year old.

Miranda: Haha, that’s funny.

Richard: No, I’m serious.

Miranda: Tell it to the marines. That would be impossible.

More Examples

This quote shows a president repurposing the catchphrase in order to support his political policies and budget.

  • President Reagan watched Marine Corp recruits clamber over a forbidding series of obstacles at this training center today and said advocates of cuts in his defense budget should “tell it to the Marines.” –LA Times

The second example is an article title from an opinion piece on whether or not men and women should have different standards to become a marine.

  • Men and women the same? Tell it to the Marines –The Inquirer


The phrase tell it to the marines means that can’t be true.