What Does Easy Come Easy Go Mean?

Although it’s difficult to determine the meanings of most idiomatic expressions just by considering the definitions of the individual words they contain, you may be able to deduce the meaning of easy come, easy go in this manner—at least, in part. For fun, take a minute to formulate a guess about its definition, then scroll down and read on to see if you’re right, plus learn much more about this popular phrase!

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What Does Easy Come Easy Go Mean?

As mentioned above, easy come, easy go is a bit different from most idioms, in that you may be able to at least partially understand its meaning by looking to the definitions of the words it contains. (This is typically a challenge, since idioms have a figurative rather than literal meaning; more in a minute.) To do so, first, you’d remind yourself of the definitions of come and go, meaning “arrive” and “leave” respectively. Then, you’d recall the main definition of the word easy: “not difficult or discomforting; demanding little thought or effort.”

Putting these definitions together, you’d land on the overarching meaning of easy come, easy go: “that which arrives with little thought or effort typically leaves without difficulty.” In other words, it’s used to say that when something is easily acquired or obtained, it is usually also very easily given up or lost. It is often used when talking about money; for example, money readily won and readily lost while gambling.

The implication with this expression is that when, say, money, an object, or even a goal is easy to get or achieve, then you don’t really care if you spend that money, lose the object, or maintain the goal. When you don’t have to work hard to have or achieve these things, you may not especially try to keep them. 

That’s why the phrase also conveys that someone isn’t bothered by losing something—that they have a bit of a carefree, go-with-the-flow attitude about it. Why aren’t they concerned with the seeming misfortune? Since they didn’t have to put in too much effort for the gain, the loss doesn’t feel like a big deal. 

Here are some example sentences using the expression easy come, easy go to help you more fully understand its meaning:

  • We went into the casino with $10 and quickly won $500, but we ultimately left with just $5. Oh well; easy come, easy go. At least we didn’t leave with no money!
  • My mom gave me $40 on Friday just because, and I’d already spent it by Saturday afternoon. As they say, easy come, easy go. 
  • Mary seems to always be dating someone new and doesn’t take her relationships very seriously. When she told me her and her last boyfriend broke up, I expected her to be a little sad, but she just shrugged her shoulders and said, “Easy come, easy go.” She was back on the dating apps right away. 
  • One of my silly cat videos went viral, and then all of a sudden I was famous! Of course, the fame was a case of easy come, easy go; there’s always going to be another new video to talk about.

The Etymology of the Expression

Different variations of the phrase have been used throughout history, dating back to ancient times. Indeed, a Chinese sage is reported to have stated what translates to “quickly come and quickly go” around 400 B.C. Other variants throughout the centuries have included quickly come, quickly go; lightly come, lightly go; and light come, light go. It appears easy come, easy go dates to the early 1800s.

The Phrase in Pop Culture

The expression has a certain, well, ease to it. So it’s no surprise it has found its way into pop culture. In 1967, the musical comedy film Easy Come, Easy Go was released. It starred Elvis Presley, who played United States Navy officer Ted Jackson. Elvis recorded a song by the same name to be featured in the movie. His co-stars included Dodie Marshall, Pat Harrington, Jr., Pat Priest, Elsa Lanchester, and Frank McHugh. The film reached #50 on the national box office list that year.

In 1993, American country music artist George Strait released an album titled Easy Come, Easy Go, which also featured a song with the same name, written by Aaron Barker and Dean Dillon and produced by Tony Brown. Other country songs have the same title, as do songs from artists in other musical genres.

Understanding Idioms

Easy come, easy go is an idiom. An idiom is an expression with an intended meaning that can’t typically be fully understood just by looking at the words that comprise it. These words and phrases have a figurative rather than literal meaning. Even if you’ve never heard the term idiom, you have most likely heard many idiomatic expressions. Here are just a few of the most common idioms used today:

You’re in hot water.
His boss gave him the ax.
It’s time to face the music.
You’ve hit the nail on the head.

If you took the first example literally, you’d think it was describing a person standing in a bathtub full of hot water, perhaps. But the expression is actually used to describe a person who’s in trouble. Likewise, rather than literally being handed a tool for chopping wood, if you get the ax from your boss, it means you’re getting fired. It’s time to face the music means that it’s time to come to terms with the consequences of your actions. And when someone has hit the nail on the head, they’ve gotten an answer exactly right or done something exactly as it should have been done.

As has been mentioned, you may be able to more, ahem, easily deduce the meaning of this idiom than others discussed here at The Word Counter. But in doing so, you might miss the connotation that when something is easily won, a person may not care as much if it’s lost and even easily lost; they may not put in much effort to keep it. Take the phrase at face value, and it’s difficult to discern that it is used to express that someone isn’t bothered by losing something.

Discover the meanings and origins of many more common idioms.

Summary

The idiomatic phrase easy come, easy go is used to say that what is easily acquired, or gained without difficult work or a great deal of effort, is usually easily lost—and that when it is, it’s lost without much regret or sadness. Although different variations of this expression have been in use since ancient times, it appears the version of the saying we know and use today dates to the 19th century.