Go figure

Discussion in 'English Only' started by dreamlike, Jan 13, 2013.

  1. dreamlike

    dreamlike Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Hi everyone,

    the following has been written by one of my professors, a Polish non-native speaker of English, who speaks very good English and presumably spent some portion of his life in an English-speaking environment. It's a description of a test that we're going to take during one of his lectures:

    There will be five simple questions, including one survey-type question. You will need three points for a passing grade; but, as I am such a good uncle, the survey question will be worth two points. Go figure.

    Is it just me, or the phrase in bold doesn't really read well in this context? My professor appears to have been trying to say 'Take a hint, students', but 'Go figure' is not a good way to convey that, right?
    I normally use it to mean "This defies explanation!"
     
  2. Beryl from Northallerton Moderator

    British English
    I agree with you that that's what it usually means, though I can't see why it can't have its usual meaning in this context.

    I would take to mean '...but, as I am such a good uncle, the survey question will be worth two points. Explain that if you can.' (ie. there's no accounting for how friendly/kindly a Professor I am)
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2013
  3. dreamlike

    dreamlike Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Thank you, Beryl. It's just that normally, in my experience, 'Go figure' is preceded by at least some attempts to account for a given state of affairs, and then a speaker says in a resigned sigh 'Go figure'. Here, it is not used this way and that's why it does not sound entirely natural to me. But who am I to judge, if you say it's fine.
     
  4. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    I'm going to side with you, dreamlike - I do not think that "go figure!" has a literal meaning, and if your professor wishes to express, "retire for the purposes of calculation/reflection." then another construction should be found.
     
  5. Beryl from Northallerton Moderator

    British English
    Well, it'll be interesting to see what others have to say.

    As aside, but one that I don't think entirely irrelevant, the sentence taken as a whole strikes me as bordering on the bizarre. Profs. don't say 'go figure', nor do they describe themselves as uncles ... but apparently they do. Go figure! :) (Cross-posted with PQ)
     
  6. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    I also agree with DL about the usual meaning of 'Go figure' and I think the professor did not mean to say that at all. I think he wanted to say something like 'now that you know that the survey question will be worth 2 points, guess what you will have to do - you will have to be well prepared for the survey question and you will almost certainly pass if you are'.

    What does that say? I think it says I also agree with DL :D
     
  7. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    These previous discussions suggest other nuances of "go figure" (go "figgah" in New York-ese :)) , but the quoted text still seems out of place.

    go figure
    go figure

    As an added note, "because I am such a good uncle" seems out of place to my AE brain.
     
  8. dreamlike

    dreamlike Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Thanks for all your insights. :thumbsup:

    That's what I thought all along, but in the light of Beryl's post I did not want to voice my doubts (and be disprespectful to my professor) :D

    Yes, the sentence as a whole sounds pretty odd...

    Sdgraham, would you care to expand on that one? 'Since I'm such a good uncle' is not something one would use in English to mean 'since I'm so generous...'? If so, it's no big surprise -- I thought as much, it may be a literal translation from Polish.
     
  9. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    I vote with those who find "go figure" an erroneous expression here—and, like SDGraham, I'm also puzzled by the professor's referring to himself as an "uncle". Perhaps it makes sense in BE; in AE, the language would be "such a good guy" or "such a good fellow".
     
  10. dreamlike

    dreamlike Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Thank you, Parla. You are the fourh person to have dismissed it as wrong. I'm not glad to read that at all... it's yet another mistake on my teachers part that I've managed to find. And my faculty of English is said to be the largest and the best centre of English studies in Europe....
     
  11. Beryl from Northallerton Moderator

    British English
    I don't think that we can second guess the Professor's intentions can we? Maybe you should just ask him DL? If he did mean take a hint, then I would say he was wrong.

    Has anyone here (other than PaulQ) actually stated why they think this an inappropriate use of the phrase? Certainly, looking at COCA, it supports a number of usages, many (if not most) of which do not require of its utterer to make 'attempts to account for a given state of affairs'.

    As far as I can see, it suffices for you to voice an apparent contradiction, and then wield the expression. There are two apparent contradictions in the Prof's original, so you do the math.

    The only thing that marks this one out as potentially infelicitous, in my view, is that it is the Professor himself who generates the weirdness that he goes on to question with 'go figure'.
     
  12. exgerman Senior Member

    NYC
    English but my first language was German
    I agree that the whole thing is bizarre, but it's possible that the avuncular professor intended a pun: calculate your point score and work out the details on your own.
     
  13. dreamlike

    dreamlike Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    No, as much as I'd like to ask him about that, I can't. I'm simply one of 150 students -- I don't have classes with him, just lectures. Besides, my question could be misunderstood, in the sense that I'm questioning his credentials.

    In which case the intended meaning would clash with the usual meaning of 'Go figure', wouldn't it. I think that's what the Professor actually meant, Boozer offered a similar guess earlier on.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2013
  14. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    You know, DL, now that I read Exgerman's post I think he may actually be right about this being intended as a pun. Though my (new :D) interpretation may be slightly different:

    On the one hand - it is hard to explain why the survey question in question :) should be so important next to the other questions I might ask. Alternatively, as Beryl suggests, my kindness defies explanation. So go figure.

    On the other hand, literally - now that you know the basics of what I consider important, you must figure out what you must do in order to pass, i.e. 'go figure (it out)'.

    Whether this would be seen as a good pun is another story - the only thing that really needs figuring out in his advice is 'go figure' itself. :D But I do not think all of this casts a shadow on your professor's credentials or qualifications. Not just yet. I once had an assistant professor who was half-literate. I stopped paying him attention after the second sentence he uttered and I still think I listened to him for too long. :)

    As regards the oddity of your professor calling himself 'uncle', it may be just me but I did not even blink at it - it is an attempt at humour, most definitely.
     
  15. dreamlike

    dreamlike Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    I can't help the feeling that he meant just that, and simply failed to include 'out'. The theory about it being a pun is an interesting one, but it's too fanciful for my taste. Anyway, thanks for all your answers again, I think the topic has been exhausted, the bottom line being that it's not the best use of 'go figure' :D
     
  16. velisarius

    velisarius Senior Member

    Greece
    British English (Sussex)
    I'm not too familiar with the American expression "go figure", but in context it's just a throw-away remark as per Beryl's explanation in post #2. I wouldn't try to analyse this to death; it sounds as though the poor guy is just trying to sound informal and friendly. The "good uncle" though does sound a bit off. I don't think it's an expression a native speaker would use.
    Still, any attempt at humour from a lecturer can't be so bad, can it?
     
  17. dreamlike

    dreamlike Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    No, Velisarius, not at all. The thing is that my faculty English boasts itself as being "the largest and the best centre of English studies in Europe", which members are said to speak impeccable idiomatic English, and the Professor in question is one of the most experienced ones. To me, both the "good uncle" and "go figure" are out of place. I don't think any less of him, but nor do I expect a Professor to write something like that. It's odd.
     
  18. Beryl from Northallerton Moderator

    British English
    If you think it's odd, it's arguable that you are all speaking impeccable English, and that your Professor is exhibiting the same gaff prone tendencies as would a native speaker of a similar age - one who's trying to be all down with the kids. It seldom comes off well, but if your aim to speak impeccable native English for your age range, then maybe that's what you've got to do. Hats off to him for going the extra mile!
     
  19. dreamlike

    dreamlike Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    That would be very convenient, wouldn't it, but it's not a likely explanation. :D All right, let's give it a rest. Our Professor is doing us a big favour by making it so easy for us to pass the test, and it's unfair to pick on him, I've just come to realise.
     
  20. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Canada
    Mandarin 國語
    My interpretation of the original text before reading all the responses:
    A “good uncle,” where “uncle” reminds me of My Rich Uncle Slot Machines, seems to be a metaphor for a friendly, generous person who gives out goodies (money or grades) like candy. Go figure,” an interjection that means something defying explanation or contradicting common sense, seems to be saying “I’m so generous that I would even go against my common sense if you haven’t figured it out yet.”

    My first impression on the professor: humorous, unique, friendly.

    My thought after reading all the responses: A living language is chopped into pieces for an autopsy. The same text can be interpreted in so many ways, all seemingly legitimate. It proves the danger of first impressions, including mine.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2013
  21. dreamlike

    dreamlike Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Sounds like a good summary of this thread to me :thumbsup:
     

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