to switch gears

ronbutters at AOL.COM ronbutters at AOL.COM
Fri Jan 7 14:25:28 UTC 2011

This is obviously a metaphor on it's way to becoming an idiom. There are surely a bazillion of these. When does a fairly transparent figurative expression become so commonplace that it crosses the border between cliche and idiom worthy of its own line in all dictionaries? As Burchfield writes in the prefatory material, not every word can be entered in a dictionary--not even an unabridged one. Even the online OED would become impossibly cluttered with material that few if any users would need.

That said, I would guess that students learning English might be puzzled by this expression.

Sent from my iPad

On Jan 6, 2011, at 8:52 PM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM> wrote:

> Not in OED--the straight meaning is directly derivable, so no need for
> it, but the figurative meaning is not. It means "to change attitude,
> approach, direction [abruptly]; to make a different choice, preference"
> Unabridged is the only one I found to have a definition:
>> shift/switchgears--to change one's attitude, course of action,
>> methods, etc., in an abrupt, dramatic, or unexpected manner: In the
>> middle of the second act the play shifts gears from comedy to tragedy.
> A few news items just from the last couple of days:
>> In the past week, we've all switched gears from reviews of 2010 to
>> previews of 2011.
>> It was at that moment he scrapped his plans for a cafe and switched
>> gears to yogurt.
>> The man who advised the famed tax cutting President on Reaganomics has
>> switched gears, but, take into consideration a few things.
>> The defense team for Dr. Conrad Murray who stands accused of
>> involuntary manslaughter in the premature death of R&B icon Michael
>> Jackson, has now switched gears and will use the theory that the
>> entertainer may have killed himself.
>> While Town Manager Jeff Durbin said Fraser will continue to support
>> the underpass, Nelson said Winter Park Town Council has switched gears
>> at this point and is focusing entirely on the Quiet Zones.
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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