He wasn't nothing but talk

Axelroll

Senior Member
Spanish (Spain)
Hi everybody:

I need some help to understand the phrase in bolds:

Whoever'd want to kill Sam? He wouldn't hurt nobody. He wasn't nothing but talk.
It is said by an African-american woman when a policeman informs her that his boyfriend Sam has been killed. Sam worked as a night porter in a luncheonette, and was a smooth-talking ex-preacher (maybe she's referring to that?). I've tried to find a definition of "talk" used as an adjective but without success. The text is from Run, man, run, a novel by Chester Himes, an author that uses intensively Black English for his black characters, so maybe that's why I don't get what the woman means.

Thanks for any help you may provide.
 
  • Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    He wasn't nothing but talk. = He was all talk. Assuming that there was a problem with the double negative.

    To be equated with 'talk' in this way, simply implies that there was no substance behind his words.

    If he ever made threats, then he never intended to follow up on them. (His words would not be converted into deeds)
     
    Last edited:

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    In proper English this means "he wasn't anything but talk," or "he was only talk." The person is equated, figuratively, to talk as a way of indicating that, for this purpose, he consisted only of talk.

    The meaning is that he wouldn't actually do anything. He would just talk about it.

    There's an expression in the western U.S. that uses a similar structure: "He's all hat and no cattle." It means that he has the image of a rancher or cowboy (the hat) but not the important part (the cattle). It doesn't mean that the person really is a hat. It's used figuratively to indicate something about him.
     

    Axelroll

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain)
    He wasn't nothing but talk. =He was all talk. Assuming that there was a problem with the double negative.

    To be equated with 'talk' in this way, simply implies that there was no substance behind his words.

    If he ever made threats, then he never intended to follow up on them. (His words would not be converted into deeds)

    Many thanks, Beryl and Egmont! All clear now :)
     

    Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    There's an expression in the western U.S. that uses a similar structure: "He's all hat and no cattle." It means that he has the image of a rancher or cowboy (the hat) but not the important part (the cattle). It doesn't mean that the person really is a hat. It's used figuratively to indicate something about him.

    :thumbsup: - Nice one!
     
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