know from

Philip Trauring philip at CS.BRANDEIS.EDU
Fri Dec 27 20:03:10 UTC 2002

I think there are two different constructions here. One is 'know
from' and the  other is 'know X from Y'.

Examples such as 'he doesn't know his ass from his elbow' are also
idioms, whose constructions I would argue are not easily tracked and
frequently flaunt normal grammatical rules. Does anyone have an
example of this 'know X from Y' construction that isn't an insult?

I'm not convinced the two constructions have the same origin.

A typical NY Jewish construction might be self-depreciating - such as
'I don't know from that'. I don't think I've ever heard someone say
'I don't know my ass from my elbow'. :-)


At 1:53 PM -0500 12/27/02, Beverly Flanigan wrote:
>At 01:08 PM 12/27/2002 -0500, you wrote:
>>In a message dated 12/27/02 11:33:19 AM Eastern Standard Time,
>>laurence.horn at YALE.EDU writes:
>>>  You'd expect "He doesn't know from a hole in the ground" (or what
>>>   I assume is the unexpurgated version, "He doesn't know from a hole in
>>>   his ass")  to represent the original version, and I suspect this
>>>   doesn't occur at all.  These expressions (cf. also "He doesn't know
>>>   shit from shinola") allude to imperfections in the referent's powers
>>>   of discernment,
>>The original expression was "He doesn't know his ass from a hole in the
>>ground".  I don't know of any variants.  Why these two items are juxtaposed
>>is less than obvious---I would guess the originator had a scatalogical image
>>of a man's anus and the hole in the ground he is defecating into.
>My father used "He doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground"
>frequently (born 1900 in rural Minnesota, of Norwegian- and Swedish-born
>parents).  Believe me, there wasn't any Yiddish influence in that
>area!  However, German immigrants were co-existent in the area.  I always
>wondered where he got that expression; as a kid, I just assumed he was so
>clever (and generally scatological in his talk) that he made this, and
>others, up!

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