to switch gears

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 7 18:18:54 UTC 2011

I thought I was careful enough to explain why it deserves an entry,
despite the briefness of the submission. For one, it's well into the
idiomatic lore--there is no direct connection between straight meaning
of "shift/switch gears", which usually implies a gradual transition,
mostly of speed, and the "metaphorical" use, which implies a radical
change, a break with the past in some aspect.

Although I agree that not every expression--perhaps even not every
idiom--should end up in every dictionary, the OED is a historical and an
unabridged dictionary that is obligated to cast a wider net under its
"charter". And dictionary "clutter" makes no sense in an online
setting--as long as the online dictionary possesses two essential tools,
ample storage and a functional search utility. The former does not
appear to be a concern and the latter is a vast improvement in the new
edition over the old.

In any case, inclusion or exclusion of an expression should be up to the
editorial board and, it seems, they've already made the decision on this
one. The OED is in no danger of turning into Wiki.


PS: Just as an example, "To be well on one's way" /is/ in OED (way n.1
36.a.)--something I was not sure I was going to find when I first
looked. But Ron's abbreviated "on it's way" [sic] might be harder to
look up if you don't attach "well" to it--I used advanced search with
"well on" near (5) "way" and got a rather substantial number of
quotation hits. If I tried a similar search without "well", I might not
have found it. Still, it's only 22 hits and it does produce the correct
headword. But searching for "on its way" gets 98 hits, all quotes, and
the correct headword (way) never pops up. In this case, I would agree
with Ron--not everything has to be in the dictionary. Understanding the
dynamics of the entries in OED made the search easier even if one's
preference might be to look up anything related with a single click.

On 1/7/2011 9:25 AM, ronbutters at AOL.COM wrote:
> 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.

The American Dialect Society -

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