I’m not sure what this blog would do without Ben Brantley. The American-born New York Times theater critic is a veritable font of NOOBs, notably obscure ones, like “gives me the pip” and “twig.” He struck again yesterday in the first line of his review of Jez Butterworth’s play The Ferryman: “No matter what sort of spread you’ve planned for your Thanksgiving dinner, it won’t be a patch on the glorious feast that has been laid out at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater.”
Since I didn’t recognize “won’t be a patch on,” and since it came from Brantley, I assumed it was a Britishism. I assumed right. The OED defines “not a patch on” as “in no way comparable to, not nearly as good as.” All the citations (starting in 1860) are from British sources, for example, the Daily Telegraph in 1994: “Set against native trees, Leyland green looks very synthetic, and is not a patch on yew.”
I’m going to label the phrase as an outlier, since when I searched Google Books for it, every single hit came from British or Commonwealth sources, including the title of the 2009 novel Not a Patch on Charlotte Cox.
But in any case, cheers, Mr. Brantley.