acted out by returning elves who were so on stage and goofy that it made me a little sick to my stomach.

Vanloon

Senior Member
Hindi
47: Christmas and Commerce - This American Life

You can be an Entrance Elf, a Water Cooler Elf, a Bridge Elf, Train Elf, Maze Elf, Island Elf, Magic Window Elf, Emergency Exit Elf, Counter Elf, Magic Tree Elf, Pointer Elf, Santa Elf, Photo Elf, Usher Elf, Cash Register Elf, or Exit Elf.

We were given a demonstration of various positions in action, acted out by returning elves who were so on stage and goofy that it made me a little sick to my stomach. I don't know that I could look anyone in the eye and exclaim, "Oh, my goodness! I think I see Santa!" Or "Can you close your eyes and make a very special Christmas wish?" Everything these elves say seems to have an exclamation point on the end of it. It makes one's mouth hurt to speak with such forced merriment.

context: David Sedaris worked at a Macy department store as an elf during Christmas season.
Q: What is the subject of the verb 'acted out' here? And...'returning elves' here means David Sedaris? But it is plural and why he was sick? Sorry for many questions. Thanks in advance!
 
  • Graciela J

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Argentina
    I think that the subject of 'acted out' is 'a demonstration'. I suppose that 'returning elves' would be people who had worked as elves in former years, and now they are teaching new people.
     

    analeeh

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    This sentence immediately garden-paths you syntactically, but let me try and explain it.

    'Returning elves' is, as Graciela J says, probably people who have previous experience acting/working as elves.

    'Act out [a scene, a conversation]' means to perform it. 'Acted out' is not a verb here but a passive participle - you can read it as equivalent to a relative clause 'which were acted out'. The noun to which it is attached can't be 'demonstration' - I read it as attached to 'various positions'. A demonstration is given of the positions. This demonstration is carried out by some of the 'returning elves'.

    You have to read 'on stage' (which I would have hyphenated to show it isn't being used normally) and 'goofy' as coordinated adjectives. 'On-stage' is not familiar to me as an adjective but it's fairly clear that it means overdone, overdramatic, overacted (silly in a way characteristic of acting).

    'A little sick to my stomach' is a bad choice of words because 'sick to my stomach' is in itself an emphatic way of saying 'sick' and emphasising it while simultaneously weakening it with 'a little' sounds a bit silly to my ear. But the author doesn't mean literally sick - we use 'it makes me feel sick' or 'sickening' metaphorically to talk about things which are excessively sentimental or ridiculous. So they're saying that the demonstration (the positions) was so 'goofy' (overdone, overacted, cliched etc) that they (metaphorically) 'felt sick'.
     

    Hildy1

    Senior Member
    English - US and Canada
    'A little sick to my stomach' is a bad choice of words because 'sick to my stomach' is in itself an emphatic way of saying 'sick' and emphasising it while simultaneously weakening it with 'a little' sounds a bit silly to my ear.
    This applies in British English. In American English, "sick" simply means "not well". A person can be sick with any kind of illness - a cold, flu, measles, etc. So in AE, it is not redundant to say "sick to my stomach".
     

    analeeh

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    To me 'sick to my stomach' is not specifying the location of the illness - I wouldn't ever use it literally, so I don't think the usage has much to do with what 'sick' means literally in British or American English. It only emphasises 'sick' in the metaphorical sense. Do you not say 'it made me feel sick' metaphorically? I.e. do you have to say 'it made me sick to my stomach' in order to carry the metaphorical meaning? And if you do, do you not also feel like 'sick to my stomach' is more emphatic than 'sick'?
     

    Hildy1

    Senior Member
    English - US and Canada
    I agree that "sick to my stomach", used as here, does not necessarily specify a part of the body. However, it does indicate the kind of feeling, i.e. disgust. In AE, "sick" by itself could refer to other kinds of unwellness, such as dizziness, numbness, weakness, or generalized pain.

    A different feeling of (metaphorical) sickness could happen, for example, to someone who hears bad news about a friend or relative.
     

    Vanloon

    Senior Member
    Hindi
    This sentence immediately garden-paths you syntactically, but let me try and explain it.

    'Returning elves' is, as Graciela J says, probably people who have previous experience acting/working as elves.

    'Act out [a scene, a conversation]' means to perform it. 'Acted out' is not a verb here but a passive participle - you can read it as equivalent to a relative clause 'which were acted out'. The noun to which it is attached can't be 'demonstration' - I read it as attached to 'various positions'. A demonstration is given of the positions. This demonstration is carried out by some of the 'returning elves'.

    You have to read 'on stage' (which I would have hyphenated to show it isn't being used normally) and 'goofy' as coordinated adjectives. 'On-stage' is not familiar to me as an adjective but it's fairly clear that it means overdone, overdramatic, overacted (silly in a way characteristic of acting).

    'A little sick to my stomach' is a bad choice of words because 'sick to my stomach' is in itself an emphatic way of saying 'sick' and emphasising it while simultaneously weakening it with 'a little' sounds a bit silly to my ear. But the author doesn't mean literally sick - we use 'it makes me feel sick' or 'sickening' metaphorically to talk about things which are excessively sentimental or ridiculous. So they're saying that the demonstration (the positions) was so 'goofy' (overdone, overacted, cliched etc) that they (metaphorically) 'felt sick'.
    Thanks to you, I understand almost every single words here. Thanks a lot!
     
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