afraid of making stuttering fools of themselves

russian80

Senior Member
Russian
What can be inserted before the "fool"?
Can we say, "He made a dancing fool of himself"? "He made a most astonishingly blundering fool of himself"? "He made a much-despised fool of himself"?
 
  • Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    Your question is too vague. Thousands of adjectival phrases could be inserted here. I can't think of any particular restrictions. However if you have a specific case in mind please provide it.
     

    russian80

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thousands of adjectival phrases could be inserted here. I can't think of any particular restrictions.
    Didn't you read the previous comment? DonnyB has the opposite opinion and I can't reconcile the two however hard I try.

    Now, can we put
    "He made a never-to-be-trusted-again fool of himself"?
    "He made one of the most distinguished in London fool of himself"?
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    Didn't you read the previous comment? DonnyB has the opposite opinion and I can't reconcile the two however hard I try.

    Now, can we put
    "He made a never-to-be-trusted-again fool of himself"?
    "He made one of the most distinguished in London fool of himself"?
    The thing is that "to make a fool of yourself" is an idiom in English, and something almost in the nature of a set phrase. That in my view severely limits the extent to which you can add things to it without it sounding anywhere from a bit 'off' to plain ridiculous. So while it's grammatically possible, as Glas says, to insert virtually any adjectival phrase you like, I would say relatively few are going to sound idiomatic.
     

    russian80

    Senior Member
    Russian
    The thing is that "to make a fool of yourself" is an idiom in English, and something almost in the nature of a set phrase. That in my view severely limits the extent to which you can add things to it without it sounding anywhere from a bit 'off' to plain ridiculous. So while it's grammatically possible, as Glas says, to insert virtually any adjectival phrase you like, I would say relatively few are going to sound idiomatic.
    Basically, by attempting to modify a set phrase (where each word is used in a particular way), one makes it pretty nonsensical as it affects the particular meaning of the words that were originally there, doesn't one?
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Can we say, "He made a dancing fool of himself"? "He made a most astonishingly blundering fool of himself"? "He made a much-despised fool of himself"?
    All three of these work fine for me. I do this all the time; I call the process new life for dead clichés:)
    As far as I'm concerned, if you maintain the basic structure — [n./N./pron.] [make] a fool of [__self/selves] — you can do what you like.
     

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    Actually I had not seen DonnyB's post when I replied, but it does not change my answer. As ewie says you can add anything provided you keep the initial structure. But some people will have DonnyB's reaction.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    Didn't you read the previous comment? DonnyB has the opposite opinion and I can't reconcile the two however hard I try.
    Never fear! Help is here! I can reconcile these seemingly "opposite" opinions for you.

    "Fool" is a noun with a specific meaning. The phrase "dancing fool" has a different meaning. Someone who is a "dancing fool" is not a "fool". So when you can change "fool" to "dancing fool" you get a new sentence with a new meaning.

    That is one example. The key problem is that we don't know which question you are asking:

    (1) what words can I add before "fool", creating a new statement with a different meaning?

    (2) what words can I add before "fool" with no change to the meaning of the sentence?

    Glasguensis is answering (1), saying there are thousands of possibilities. DonnyB is answering (2), saying there are very few.
     

    russian80

    Senior Member
    Russian
    All three of these work fine for me. I do this all the time; I call the process new life for dead clichés:)
    As far as I'm concerned, if you maintain the basic structure — [n./N./pron.] [make] a fool of [__self/selves] — you can do what you like.
    The actual question was, how idiomatic would it remain? How likely is an educated native speaker to say it?

    (1) what words can I add before "fool", creating a new statement with a different meaning?
    (2) what words can I add before "fool" with no change to the meaning of the sentence?
    Any words placed before "fool" would modify, thus change, the original meaning of the sentence. The question is, would a set phrase continue to be perceived as such after certain modifications.
     

    Wizzydoo

    Member
    English
    I see myself as an "educated native speaker" :). I think you could say "he made a complete/total/absolute fool of himself", or "he made a bit of a fool of himself" or "he made rather a fool of himself".
    "He made a most astonishingly blundering fool of himself"? just about works for me but the"dancing fool" and the "much-despised fool" sound really weird.
     

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    If by idiomatic you mean used by many native speakers, then they are not idiomatic. If you mean something a native speaker might say, then they are entirely idiomatic, but it would be a native speaker with literary inclinations.
     

    russian80

    Senior Member
    Russian
    "He made a most astonishingly blundering fool of himself"? just about works for me but the"dancing fool" and the "much-despised fool" sound really weird.
    Would it work for any other - or most - educated native speakers too?

    If you mean something a native speaker might say, then they are entirely idiomatic, but it would be a native speaker with literary inclinations.
    Well, one can say that there are a plenty of tipsy Russian halfwits who would not hesitate to say a ton of utter nonsense in Russian.
    Even professional journalists occasionally slip.
     

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    That's not what I meant. Shakespeare seems to have invented a host of expressions, and they obviously stuck because they sounded fine to those who heard them. Your suggestions are the kind of thing one might easily read in an article or hear from an accomplished speaker - in that sense they are idiomatic, even if nobody has previously used them.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    The actual question was, how idiomatic would it remain? How likely is an educated native speaker to say it?
    No it wasn't. The actual question was
    What can be inserted before the "fool"?
    This answer seems reasonable.
    As ewie says you can add anything provided you keep the initial structure.
    Without trying too hard I can think of about 30 words that I could perfectly reasonably use to fill the gap in "He made a(n) ____ fool of himself".
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    And in fact you can ~ and we do ~ replace fool with various things, provided you keep the structure:
    They made blithering idiots of themselves.
    She made such a ninny of herself.
    He's making a complete and utter twat of himself.

    etc.

    Apologies to folks living in areas where that's a rude word:cool:
     
    Last edited:

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Certainly if your modifier does a job of quantifying (colossal, such, complete and utter ...), the sky's pretty much the limit. Also: the final noun has to be basically a synonym for fool (idiot, ninny, chump, div ...).
    It's when you start adding other types of modifier (dancing, much-despised ...) and/or nouns (simpleton, nerd ...) that people will accuse you of 'tinkering' with an established idiom ... and producing something that sounds 'unnatural':)
     

    russian80

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Certainly if your modifier does a job of quantifying (colossal, such, complete and utter ...), the sky's pretty much the limit. Also: the final noun has to be basically a synonym for fool (idiot, ninny, chump, div ...).
    It's when you start adding other types of modifier (dancing, much-despised ...) and/or nouns (simpleton, nerd ...) that people will accuse you of 'tinkering' with an established idiom ... and producing something that sounds 'unnatural':)
    Thanks for the thorough answer.
    Could you recommend any reference books that specify how each idiom can be modified?
     
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