Learn English – Literal breakdown of the phrase “case in point”


A "case in point" is something like a relevant example. How does the phrase break down literally, though? For example, "with bated breath" makes sense because "to bate" means to hold, so "with bated breath" means with breath held in anticipation. What about "case in point"?

Best Answer

In point comes from French. World Wide Words explains it as follows:

[I]t was once possible to say in point by itself, meaning something appropriate, relevant or pertinent, but it survives only in phrases like this one.

It derives from the French à point, meaning the same as à propos, something relevant or to the point. The first example of the English form seems to be this from 1658: “Some play or other is in point”. It was beginning to look old fashioned by the time this next was published in 1888: “I recall another humble incident somewhat in point”. [...]

Here’s an example cited in the Oxford English Dictionary from 1769 that shows how the modern set phrase case in point may have come about: “Some case or cases, strictly in point, must be produced”.