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I’m not very clear with the implication of the following sentence in the article titled “The Science of Romance: Why we love” that appeared in Time magazine (Jan.28, 2008):

“But if it was that kind of sex that’s the whole reason you took up having sex in the first place – the out-of breath, out-of-body, can-you-believe-this–is-actually-happening kind of sex – the rational you had probably taken a powder.”

My questions:

  1. “in the first place” – Does it mean (sex you have) for the first time as a first experience or “as the primary reason (for having sex)?
  2. What does “the rational you had probably taken a powder,” mean? Which does it mean between “the rational (for having sex) you had, had taken a powder (here, 'the rational' is the subject),” or “You had the rational taken a power (here, 'you' is the subect).”

FYI: Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘take a powder’ as ‘(North American informal) depart quickly, especially in order to avoid a difficult situation, with which I understand ‘take a powder’ is used only in intransitive form.

As a non-native English speaker, this sentence looks somewhat winding to me. Can you put it in plainer way or in simpler structure?

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4  
do not confuse rationale, a noun meaning "reason for doing something", with rational, an adjective meaning "thinking clearly and logically". The rational you is a noun phrase here meaning, roughly, "your capacity to act rationally." –  Michael Edenfield Jul 7 '13 at 0:32
    
It didn’t come to mind that the subject of the sentence is “the rational you” until I see your answers and comments. I was preoccupied with the idea that the subject is ‘the rational’ that you had, followed by ‘had taken away, and suspected if the writer dropped one more ‘had’ off. I took ‘the rational’ for a noun thoughtlessly. The case closed thanks to your input. –  Yoichi Oishi Jul 8 '13 at 20:53

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Breaking it down, the rational you means the rational part of your self. The emotional you might crave more ice cream, while the rational you might resist for good reasons. Use of an article (the) with a personal pronoun (you) is normally wrong, but it is normal in some circumstances.¹

To take a powder is to absent yourself. One literally takes a powder when one excuses one’s self from a social situation to reapply one’s cosmetic powder to one’s face.²

Together, the rational you had probably taken a powder means the rational part of yourself had probably absented itself in that situation.

In the first place is idiomatic. It means before now, as can be discovered in a dictionary of idioms, for example by googling [define in the first place].

Notes

1. More at Person, Anna Siewierska, 2004.

2. The phrase does not seem to have a single origin. Besides a visit to the powder room, it may also allude to the taking of medical powders, or to stage magic which involved vanishing an object using “magic powder”. For awhile it was popular gang language for leaving town to avoid a confrontation. More at Online Etymology Dictionary.

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2  
Before now is not a good definition of in the first place. Google's scraper is confused; the source it points to does not define it that way. –  Evan Harper Jul 7 '13 at 3:45
    
The search results are much richer than that one definition. The phrase does mean "before now" in the context asked about and in many similar contexts. –  MετάEd Jul 7 '13 at 3:47
3  
In my experience, in the first place means something closer to at the outset or initially, rather than before now. –  onomatomaniak Jul 7 '13 at 11:26
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@onomatomaniak- I usually think of it as meaning to begin with and it's used when laying out reasons or arguments for or against something. –  Jim Jul 7 '13 at 15:54

Not having read the article, I can only guess what the "but" is there for!

Nevertheless, I surmise the author is comparing or contrasting two different kinds of sexual activity that human beings can engage in. The first kind of sexual behavior is perhaps more cerebral or rational than the other kind. Imagine a husband broaching the subject of sex in the following manner:

Sweetheart, we haven't had sex for six weeks now. Don't you think it's about time that we made love? Hmmm, sweet cheeks?

While there may a certain, uh, stirring in his loins, the husband's rational part seems to be guiding his words. There is nothing particularly passionate about the words; on the contrary, they are devoid of passion, even though they might lead to lovemaking, albeit of the going-through-the-motions type.

On the other hand, what if the husband and wife are on vacation, and they just returned to their hotel room after an afternoon at the beach. The husband has had an eyeful of nubile young ladies in barely-there bikinis and, well, a man has certain needs . . .. Perhaps his wife is similarly primed, as it were, for a little lovey-dovey, but after a shower and a quick change into some comfortable clothes, hunger pangs take over and they decide to go out for supper at that romantic restaurant on the beach.

After a leisurely dinner accompanied by a little wine, and as the sun is setting, like two love birds they stroll on the beach, hand in hand. As they approach a remote section of the beach where a huge rock formation provides them with a little privacy, they embrace and kiss. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, they start tearing each other's clothes off and start to make love like two twenty-somethings!

A little grunting and groaning ensues and, well, let's just say any rational thought about whether someone might catch them en flagrante couldn't be further from their minds. Now that's when his and her "rational you" leaves the building--takes a powder, and the irrational takes over. In other words, the "out-of breath, out-of-body, can-you-believe-this–is actually-happening kind of sex" occurs.

The Greeks called this kind of love eros, from which we get our word erotic. It's the passionate, animalistic kind of, uh, carnal fellowship. (Is it the French who call the peak of passion un petit mort, or a little death? One has a sort of out-of-body experience that is quite exquisite!)

That's what I think the writer of the Time article is trying to describe. While perhaps less frequent than the first scenario I've described above, the second scenario on the beach is well worth the effort if you can pull it off. It might take a little planning, but on the other hand it's perhaps more fun when there is no planning at all, and the "rational you" takes a powder!

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need to take a cold shower.

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“Fellow-ship”, you say? Curious choice of words for a she-mate encounter, eh mate? :) –  tchrist Jul 6 '13 at 22:24
    
Yeah, it is kind of euphemistic, but I think it communicates fairly well. –  rhetorician Jul 6 '13 at 22:28
    
Rhetorician. I think I fully understand the differences between a heart-throbbing sex and a mundane sex and surrounding situations. My question (2) just concerns the grammatical structure of the sentence of “the rational you had taken a powder.” Can you rephrase this line in 6 – 7 words? –  Yoichi Oishi Jul 6 '13 at 23:23
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Yoichi. In the light of @MετάEd's answer, I understand it as meaning "the rational part of you was no longer present", i.e. you were no longer acting rationally, but more likely acting according to your 'animal instincts'. "In the first place" means "initially", "in the first instance", "your main reason". –  TrevorD Jul 7 '13 at 0:47
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@YoichiOishi: Sure, I'd probably word the sentence as follows: "The rational [part of] you checked out." Or, "The rational [part of] you excused itself." Or with even more words, "The rational [side of] you said, 'Excuse me, so I can engage in raw passion.'" –  rhetorician Jul 7 '13 at 1:03

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