“Have (someone) on”

Faithful reader Wes Davis sends along a link to the outstanding American public radio show “This American Life.” He explained that the show’s staff “got a tip that hog rectums [known in the trade, collectively, as "bung"] were being sold as calamari and they set out to investigate the story.” Wes said that at roughly the 8:30 point in the segment, a NOOB erupted.

The reporter, Ben Calhoun, is talking to Ron Meek, an employee at a meat processing plant who confirms having been told that such a calamari bait-and-switch had indeed taken place. From the transcript available at the show’s website:

Ben Calhoun: And is there any possibility that you think that when they were explaining this to you, that they were kind of having you on a little bit?

Ron Meek: Having me on?

Ben Calhoun: Yeah, like–

Ron Meek: Bullshitting me?

Ben Calhoun: Yeah.

As Wes says, “It’s great because the exchange comes with a built-in reminder that American English already has a perfectly serviceable way of saying ‘having you on.'” (The OED has an 1867 first citation for the phrase and defines it as: “to puzzle or deceive intentionally; to chaff, tease; to hoax.”)

Indeed, AmE is especially rich in words denoting cheating and/or lying, which is one reason I am naming this one an Outlier. And Ben Calhoun doesn’t get any dispensation for using it by virtue of his heritage or education. Wikipedia says he was born in 1979 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and now lives in Brooklyn, New York–which is, of course, the most enthusiastic U.S. outpost of NOOBs.

Incidentally, later in the episode–which is very funny and highly recommended–Calhoun has an exchange with his sister Lauren, a chef, in which they each use a NOOB. They are staring at bung in a butcher case:

Ben: What do you think those bits are in there?

Lauren: Oh, you know. Poo.

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5 responses to ““Have (someone) on”

  1. It’s “putting you on” in AmE for the last 70 years that I know of. “Having you on” is very, very British. Dunno where he got it, but it is seldom heard here.

    • Indeed. I just recalled a scene in Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein”, where Gene Wilder is explaining the pronunciation of his name to Igor (Marty Feldman). “It’s Fronk-en-steen!” Brooks gives Feldman the line – “You’re putting me on!” Given the choice, I’m sure the English Feldman would have offered “You’re having me on!” (or even “You’re having a laugh!”)

  2. The NPR anecdote is interesting. I agree that it stands out like a sore thumb; unless the reporter was having us on.

  3. Pingback: This Week’s Language Blog Roundup: Inauguration Day, gun control, biblio-cats | Wordnik

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