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Thread: "Where do you get off....?"

  1. #1
    Hanna
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    "Where do you get off....?"

    I would like to ask someone from the US to explain the American expression "Where do you get off" as in "Where do you get off, calling Jill fat" or "Where do you get off, lying straight to my face?"

    I think I understand how this expression works but if would be good to get a confirmation. I hear it sometimes in films etc and it's a good expression, I think - just want to be sure I got it right.

  2. #2
    Почтенный гражданин
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    Hanna, great question!

    I looked around a good bit for the etymology of this phrase before I decided to respond. Trouble is, it seems whereas most phrases common to the US can be explained, their history given, this one is a bit of a mystery. Most people seem to think it has to do with people talking on a train; I think that's a silly guess. I've got one I think is better. (But, it's still just my guess.)

    The phrase fragment "get off" is often used to refer to escaping trouble or repercussion. I think that originally comes from the metaphor "to get off the hook" as a fish might (if caught on a hook), and then obviously would receive a similar reward of escape.

    So my guess is that this phrase originated from somebody literally asking another person how they thought they might avoid trouble, when doing whatever action is in reference, which by inference would be an action that one would expect to bring trouble. "Where do you get off (the hook) calling the president a dunce?" (i.e., hook being that you would be in trouble for calling the president a dunce. Luckily that's not the case, hehe)

    To make this clearer, there's long been a tendency in English to swap "where" and "how" even against the grain of grammar rules.

    Man 1: "I just got a job in a big budget movie in Hollywood."
    Man 2: "Where'd you get a sweet gig like that??"

    (literal answer would be "Hollywood;" he's already said that. But Man 2 is switching "where" and "how" in this example. What he means is "How (did you manage) to get a sweet gig like that??" )

    So I think the literal meaning of this phrase is "Where [/How] do you get off [the hook], __ing the ___ like that

    Hope this helps. [I'll just say again I'm disappointed that 10 billion internet denizens all guessed that this had to do with a bus or train conversation. I'd bet money against that etymology.] =)
    luck/life/kidkboom
    Грязные башмаки располагают к осмотрительности в выборе дороги. /*/ Muddy boots choose their roads with wisdom. ;

  3. #3
    Старший оракул Seraph's Avatar
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    seems reasonable that it is from some kind of figure of speech, maybe like '60's lingo, or earlier beat lingo.

    "Where do you get off (the trip you're on)" : ego trip, power trip, bad attitude etc. This could easily start backwards from 'get off that trip you're on' and morph into the 'where do you get off (...)'
    Just guessing.
    Last edited by Seraph; December 18th, 2011 at 08:02 PM.

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    Завсегдатай Throbert McGee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kidkboom View Post
    Man 1: "I just got a job in a big budget movie in Hollywood."
    Man 2: "Where'd you get a sweet gig like that??"

    (literal answer would be "Hollywood;" he's already said that. But Man 2 is switching "where" and "how" in this example. What he means is "How (did you manage) to get a sweet gig like that??" )
    Hmmm... doesn't really answer the "where'd you get off" question, but I suggest that in the example given by kidkboom, Man 2's "where" really means у кого, not где or как.

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    Завсегдатай Throbert McGee's Avatar
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    As to the actual origins of the phrase "where do you get off...?", I'd point out that, first, the idiom is essentially identical in meaning and usage to "Who do you think you are, to do such-and-such?!?!" -- in other words, "Do you think you're [the Pope? The President? An Egyptian pharaoh? A Five-Star General? An important billionaire industrialist?, etc.*], and that gives you the right to be a total asshole?"

    So, I hope that clears up any doubts Hanna has about when to use the expression.

    Given the phrase's "don't be so high-and-mighty"* meaning, perhaps it did actually originate as an imagined conversation between two train passengers -- as in, "Do you actually live in such a high-class neighborhood that you can speak like that to ordinary people?" And perhaps there was the additional suggestion that actual Popes/Presidents/billionaires would not be riding the train at all, but would have a chauffeured limo.

    But that's only speculation -- I'm really not sure what the origins are. So my advice to Hanna is not to worry too much about the logical meaning of the phrase, but you can use it in any circumstances where you'd say sarcastically "And who are you, the Queen of #$%^& England?!"

    * P.S. But it's not always about "high-and-mighty"-ness. In the case of "calling Jill fat", the implied comparison is "Do you think you're the Venus de Milo?", or some other standard of physical beauty. In the case of "Where do you get off lying to me?", the comparison might be something like, "Do you think you're my parents, telling me that my hamster Harry ran away to join the Hamster Foreign Legion when I was 8 years old?"

  6. #6
    Старший оракул Seraph's Avatar
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    Expression is almost always used as response to some kind of arrogance, presumption, misbehaviour, inconsideration, some thing bad.

    Meaning something like 'Какое безобразие!'.

    On question about origin, anyone know when it started to appear in films?

    Another idea from left field, is a possible source from idea of 'schadenfreude': 'get off' also means get pleasure, get kicks, etc. And so a possibility is from idea like "where do you find joy/pleasure in being such a louse/heel/low down dirt so and so etc."
    Last edited by Seraph; December 20th, 2011 at 04:27 PM.

  7. #7
    Hanna
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    Thanks for explaining this, I definitely get it now. Sounds cool I think, and more interesting that "who do you think you are......" Nobody this side of the Atlantic uses it unfortunately but it's a nice one to know nevertheless.

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    Завсегдатай Throbert McGee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seraph View Post
    Another idea from left field, is a possible source from idea of 'schadenfreude': 'get off' also means get pleasure, get kicks, etc. And so a possibility is from idea like "where do find joy/pleasure in being such a louse/heel/low down dirt so and so etc."
    That's an interesting idea, Seraph, but I don't think that "get off" in the sense of "have an orgasm" is the source of the phrase "Where do you get off?" (And note that although it's possible to say "I really get off listening to baroque music", with the meaning "I absolutely love baroque music", the underlying meaning is "Baroque music gives me an orgasm."

    So, "get off" in the sense of "get pleasure" is very slightly vulgar, and you wouldn't hear it in a G-rated Disney movie for young kids -- however, it's not X-rated or NC-17 "vulgar". I'd say it's PG-13 -- one can say "I get off on this music" in front of a teenager who's old enough to дрочить, in other words!

    But if you wanted to combine both senses of "get off," you could do it like this, as a response to someone using the expression "where does so-and-so get off":

    Mary: Where does he get off, speaking to me in such condescending tones?! (= "Does he think he's some kind of royalty?")
    Cindy: Hmmm, I'll bet that he does get off, speaking to you like that! (= "It gives him near-orgasmic joy to be condescending to people")

    But note that in this example, Cindy is deliberately using wordplay (by repeating the phrase "get off" with the proper wink-wink-nudge-nudge tone), and that Mary was not hinting at pleasure or "kicks", sexual or otherwise.
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    From more Googling, I've learned that some people think the off in "where do you get off" could possibly be a phonetic сокращение (contraction) for "all of that stuff" ("stuff" here = "nonsense", фигня).

    So, "Where do you get off calling Jill fat" might have originally meant "Where do you find such nonsense [= "get all of that stuff"] as calling Jill fat?"

    But again, this is only scholarly speculation, and nobody knows for sure.

    P.S. However, the more I think about it, the more believable it seems to me that "all of that stuff" could have phonetically mutated to "off", by way of ow-ah-fuff, or something like that.

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