fret one's (oneself) witless

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VicNicSor

Banned
Russian
fret
Cause anxiety to:
Policyholders must be fretting themselves witless over what to do next.
oxford dictionaries

The words in bold mean that policyholders worried about what to do next so much that they drew themselves witless. Witless modifies fretting, and over modifies fretting witless, is this right?
Thanks.
 
  • e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I would say that witless is an adjective and over is a preposition as in "His statement is driving me crazy about what he really thinks."
    But fretting...witless governs over.

    (Note drive-drove, draw-drew:))

    Compare also People are scared to death about the possibility of war breaking out.
     
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    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Witless modifies themselves, and over doesn't modify anything - it's a preposition introducing what to do next.

    Compare: Policyholders must be painting themselves blue, over the next few days.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    'Over' is licensed by 'fretting': you fret/worry over/about something. 'About' has a wider distribution: you are disturbed about/:cross:over something. So that makes me think 'fret' is actually selecting 'over'.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Note that your title, "fret one's witless" is ungrammatical. It should be, "fret oneself witless".

    This indicates the dangers of trying to abbreviate or summarise an expression you don't understand! ;)

    <<Moderator note: I have just added (oneself) to the title for clarity and future searchability>>
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Note that your title, "fret one's witless" is ungrammatical. It should be, "fret oneself witless".

    This indicates the dangers of trying to abbreviate or summarise an expression you don't understand! ;)
    Yes, I made two typos, one in the title and the other in the question. I actually meant:
    1. "fret one witless"
    2. "policyholders worried about what to do next so much that they drove themselves witless"
    Do you mean that I expressed the intended meaning of the example by "2." incorrectly?
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yes, I made two typos, one in the title and the other in the question. I actually meant:
    1. "fret one witless"
    2. "policyholders worried about what to do next so much that they drove themselves witless"
    Do you mean that I expressed the intended meaning of the example by "2." incorrectly?
    Although the dictionary does not appear to preclude it, it is almost unheard of to talk about fretting someone else. We either fret (intransitive), meaning that we worry or we fret ourselves into some state.

    A. I think you may confusing the issue by conflating the meaning with several different words, to fret, to drive, to worry.
    "to fret" does not mean "to drive", it means "to worry". Therefore you can say, "He worried himself silly over such a trivial matter." There is a whole class of verbs that can be used reflexively in this way.
    Examples
    He laughed himself purple in the face when he heard that joke.
    She cried herself to sleep when her pet dog died.
    "He worried himself witless over such a trivial matter."

    B. Regardless of what your dictionary allows, the following examples are highly unlikely:

    "John fretted Bill." (I have never heard of this usage. )
    "John fretted Bill witless." (I would be able to guess what this meant but it doesn't really work for me and I have never seen an example of it.)

    C. Real life usage of to fret
    In my experience the verb to fret is only used intransitively or reflexively. This exactly parallels the examples I gave about to laugh, to cry etc.

    "John fretted." (John worried)
    "John fretted about his debts. (John worried about his debts)
    "John fretted himself to distraction about his debts. (John caused himself to become very upset about his debts by worrying about them.)


    Does that help?
     
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    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    I meant something like this:
    "drive somebody crazy/nuts/mad/insane". But now I see, it seems to be another case.
    By "one" I really meant "oneself" not "someone", but yes, I was wrong again:D.

    Thank you!
     
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