To put nothing past somebody

Discussion in 'English Only' started by AlexanderIII, Feb 20, 2009.

  1. AlexanderIII

    AlexanderIII Senior Member

    Hello, everybody!
    I have come across the expression in the book by Catherine O'Flynn "What was lost". Here is the beginning of the paragraph:

    Teresa flicked back through her workbook and Kate steeled herself for a page covered in rude drawings, or maybe even smeared in poo – she really put nothing past Teresa.

    Teresa is the worst behaving girl in the class. Does the expression mean that Kate expected anything from Teresa, that Teresa could not surprise Kate with whatever manifestations of bad behavior?

    Thank you.
  2. envie de voyager Senior Member

    Niagara Falls, Canada
    You are correct. "...she really put nothing past Teresa." does mean that nothing Teresa could do would surprise Kate.
  3. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    This is an interesting question. This phrase can mean something completely different in another context, but in this context it means that Kate thinks that Teresa might do anything. In other words, there is no limit to the things Teresa will do.

    It doesn't really mean that she couldn't be surprised but that she expects that anything is possible when it comes to Teresa's behavior and she is preparing herself for the worst.
  4. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Literally, putting something past a person is offering them a choice. I agree with JamesM on what the expression means here.
  5. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I know you don't say things lightly, Forero, so I wonder what is more literal about that alternative different meaning.

    In the sense which people have recognized here, it means to put nothing (to place nothing) past Teresa (into a category beyond Teresa - into a class of behaviour beyond that of which Teresa is capable).

    If nothing can be placed into a category beyond that of which Teresa is capable, then Teresa is capable of anything.

    It seems to me that the expression to put something past someone (to give them a choice - to present something to them asking them if they want it or not) is actually a different idiom than to put nothing past someone (to say that there's not category of bad behaviour beyond that of which they are capable).
  6. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    I lump "putting something past someone" in with "running something by someone".

    I have often heard things like "I wouldn't put it past ... to ...", with stress on the word past, but I have never heard anything like it without at least some stress on past. This stress pattern makes me favor past = "by" over past = "beyond" as the "true" meaning. I wonder what the actual history is.
  7. sweetpotatoboy Senior Member

    English, UK (London)
    I must say I have never heard the first expression as meaning the second one, and we certainly do not use it here. If someone said to me: "Can I put something past you?", I would be confused.
  8. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    I think I'm with sweetpotatoboy on this. I would never use "putting something past someone" to mean "running something by someone" and I wouldn't do it the other way around, either. To me, these are two distinct and unrelated expressions.
  9. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    This seems to be a variation on the expression "I wouldn't put it past X [person's name] to ....", as in "I wouldn't put it past that shop to sell me bruised apples": I would not be surprised if that shop sold me bruised apples.

    To go back to the original sentence - Whatever Teresa might do, Kate would not be surprised. Alexander had the right idea.
  10. Aidanr444 Senior Member

    Hampshire, United Kingdom
    English - UK (Scotland)
    Envie de voyager has put the right interpretation in my view, and put it clearly.

    We would say this where I come from, without anyone thinking it involved choices, running something past, etc. It's a well-known idiom.

    How I understand it is as follows:

    "Past" = "beyond"

    Nothing is beyond x = nothing is beyond x's capability.

    She put nothing past Teresa = she estimated, judged or set a value nothing past Teresa

    =>she judged nothing to be beyond Teresa's capability.

    => she would eliminate no possible behaviour by Teresa.

    The connotation is of wickedness. Well maybe not always, it could be incompetence, an abandoned attitude (like dressing as an admiral)or some other wild-card trait
  11. AlexanderIII

    AlexanderIII Senior Member

    Yes, I see. Thank you very much.

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