Two-by-four

María Madrid

Banned
Spanish Spain
I've searched the forums but the threads about "two-by-four" didn't help me with this sentence.

-What would help?
-A two-by-four directly to the back of my head.

Context: He's been working for hours but got no results yet.

I just can't figure out what two-by-four can possibly mean... Thanks for your suggestions. :)
 
  • bretskigretzky

    Member
    Canada: Anglais
    A "two-by-four" is just the proper name for a block of wood measuring 2 inches by 4. In this context, it means someone was hit with a piece of lumber! Ouch!

    Hope that helps!
     

    María Madrid

    Banned
    Spanish Spain
    Thank you both!

    I still don't get it. What does it mean in this context? What has it got to do with working hard?

    He has been working for hours with some documents and hasn't got any results so far so a colleague asks him what he needs and this is his answer. No one was hit.

    Roxcy, it was a typo, s is next to x on the keyboard ;)
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    -What would help?
    -A two-by-four directly to the back of my head.

    Context: He's been working for hours but got no results yet.
    A 2x4 is the most common piece of wood used in construction in the U.S. (It really measures 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches) and comes in various lengths.

    Figuratively, one sees it used to indicate hitting somebody on the head to get their attention. I do not see how it works in the context you provide unless the person suggests he might get an inspiration from a blow to the head (which I have found to be counter-productive)

    Note the usage of "two-by-four" here.
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    It means he can't think of any reasonable thing that would help so they might as well try hitting him with a thick bit of wood to see if it dislodges the blockage in his brain. It's a joky comment and probably not intended to be taken literally.
    A related expression in English is "to knock some sense into someone".
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    In response to "what would help?", this is a comment along the lines of "just shoot me" or "put me out of my misery": it is ironic hyperbole based on the idea that being killed or quickly knocked unconscious would be better than continuing to labor at whatever it was one was doing.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Here is my 2 x 4 explanation.

    I met an old woman once who admired my Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

    She told me that her husband used to say:

    "We raised our Golden Retriever with love and affection. We raised our German Shepherd Dog with a firm hand and discipline. And we raised our Chessie with love and a 2 x 4."

    The implication was that the Chessie was so stubborn that the only way to get through to him was to either hit or threaten to hit him with a large piece of lumber. The comment was hyperbole, but demonstrates the use of "2 x 4" in this context.
     

    Havajietis

    Senior Member
    Lithuanian
    There is a song by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin called "But not for me", containing this "two by four" expression.

    <<excessive quotation deleted by moderator >>

    Although I can't dismiss the mem'ry of his kiss,
    I guess he's mot for me.

    He's knocking on a door, but not for me.
    He'll plan a two by four, but not for me.

    <<excess quotation deleted by moderator >>


    What does "a two by four" refer to in this context?
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    [....]
    Although I can't dismiss the mem'ry of his kiss,
    I guess he's not for me.

    He's knocking on a door, but not for me.
    He'll plan a two by four, but not for me.
    [....]
    I believe that the "two by four" is a modest home where they would live together. He'll think about making a home with someone, but not with the singer.

    In the thread two-by-four house, a lot of the discussion concerns "two by four" as a size of lumber. However, I think that estefanos has the answer in post #14, both for that context and for yours. He says:
    So I'm pretty sure "to-by-four house" is a metaphor referring to size -- two feet by four feet -- rather than a description of the construction: tiny house rather than poorly built.
    He offers a couple of supporting examples from the literature of about the time the song was written. His suggestion is also supported by the definition of two-by-four as an adjective in YourDictionary.com.
    2. Slang. Small in size; boxed in or cramped: a two-by-four apartment.
    The expression is no longer as familiar as it was when the song was written.

    In the song, two-by-four house/ home/ apartment has been shortened to two-by-four.
    .
     
    Last edited:
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