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I found the phrase ““She was young and blithe, 22 going on 16” in the article of the Time magazine (July 6 issue) dealing with the Casey Anthony Verdict, under the title, “The Casey Anthony Verdict The Jury Did the Right Thing.”

I know Casey Anthony was 22 when her 2-years old daughter was killed, but I have no idea about “goes on 16.” What does it mean? “Is the phrase, “go on 16” understood without question to any native English speakers?

The sentence in question reads:

“And yet, why would Anthony kill her daughter? When Caylee died in 2008, her mother was young and blithe, 22 going on 16. Anthony lived with her parents, dated lots of guys and wasn't thrilled about having to care every day for a 2-year-old. And so she chloroformed the girl? Or duct-taped her face?”

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4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The usual phrase is more like this:

My daughter is 16, going on 32!

It means she is very precocious. She is only 16, but she is already very advanced in terms of chasing men, and so on.

Though the usual phrase is "16 going on 32" or some similar combination going upwards, the author is deliberately turning it around the other way. He means here that the woman is 22, but behaves very immaturely, like a 16 year old.

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13  
You could have explained the idiom without a blustery opinion on whether it's good to use it or not. –  Kyralessa Jul 7 '11 at 3:40
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Please stop putting every second word in bold. Also, throwing in a "You get it?", "You see?", "Do you understand?" after every other sentence is completely uncalled for. It's pure noise that steals everybody's time and comes off as extremely condescending. Thank you. –  RegDwigнt Jul 7 '11 at 9:21
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This is not a site for ongoing dialogues. Every post must be able to stand on its own. And every post must adhere to certain standards. Eccentricities should be reserved for chat. On the main site, you are expected to follow a few very simple rules everyone else has to follow, too. –  RegDwigнt Jul 7 '11 at 9:41
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Come on, Joe. The answer is correct, but if this were a writing site it would be voted waay down. –  mickeyf Jul 7 '11 at 13:41
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@adolf garlic - I'll offer a suggestion from someone who's made a lot of mistakes in comments: Any time you find yourself tempted to instruct someone with the moderator diamond next to their name about how SO sites work, you might want to stop for a minute and gather a bit more info. –  T.E.D. Jul 7 '11 at 17:58

It means she was young and immature. The phrase "going on" means nearing in age.

My daughter is six going on seven.

This means she is almost seven.

If the gap is wide, it suggests either that she is precocious (18 going on 30) or immature (22 going on 16).

Joe Blow has covered a lot of this already, but I feel it is important to emphasize that this phrase comes from a standard, literal usage meaning "getting close to [in age]".

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To be "going on" a particular age means to be nearly that age. It's usually used in reference to the next age up, when it's nearly your birthday; that is, a 15-year-old would be "going on 16" when their birthday is near, perhaps within the next month or so.

Alternatively, you might say you are "going on" the next age to emphasize that it's going to happen soon, even if it's not really that soon: a child who just turned 15 might be described as "going on 16" if we're discussing how worried we are about how she'll be able to get her driver's license soon at 16.

A famous use of this is in the 1959 song "Sixteen Going on Seventeen", where Liesl sings about how she's nearly grown up.

So, "she was young and blithe, 22 going on 16" is not the normal way this phrase would be used, but it's likely understandable for native speakers as meaning: she was actually 22, but acted as if she were about to be only 16 years old. "Young and blithe" would serve to reinforce this meaning, because blithe can mean:

2 . Indifferent, careless, showing a lack of concern.

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GMTA on Charmain Carr... –  Joe Blow Jul 6 '11 at 22:13
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+1 for getting the point across succinctly, and still finding space for links to both the song and that crucial meaning of "blithe". –  FumbleFingers Jul 7 '11 at 0:14
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I wonder if "blithe," which is not regularly used, was chosen because of its similarity to "lithe" (supple, thin, graceful) –  horatio Jul 7 '11 at 17:28
    
@Horatio - I believe so. "Young and lithe" is a fairly common phrase. The "Blithe" I believe was meant to be a clever and noticeable turn of the phrase. –  T.E.D. Jul 7 '11 at 17:51
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@Yoichi-san, perhaps this will help: when I think of "blithe", the two meanings aren't entirely separate, I think. I imagine someone wrapped up in their own enjoyment, ignorant of surroundings, without a care for how the world around them is affected. A bit like "happy-go-lucky": they may have a good time but are not prepared for the future. A worrywart might judge that too much of this blithe attitude is a bad thing :) –  aedia λ Jul 8 '11 at 0:20

The other answers are correct, but for the sake of completeness, most English speakers would not recognize "goes on 16" or "go on 16". I don't know how the phrase came about, but it seems to always be of the the form going on X and to mean nearing X.

The idiom can also be used for nearing other things besides age:

going on,

a. nearly; almost: It's going on four o'clock.

I can't think of an example of "going on" anything but a numeric time, however. "Going on lunch" doesn't seem correct, for some reason.

The phrase can also be used to mean at least two other things, according to Dictionary.com:

b. happening: What's going on here?

c. continuing; lasting: That party has been going on all night.

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