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I found the word, “men who looked like stage three Hemingways” in the following sentence of Maureen Dowd’s article, titled “Farewell to Macho,” in the New York Times (October 15):

“Diliberto recalled that when her Hadley bio was first published in 1992, she was surprised to find her book readings filled with men “who looked like stage-three Hemingways” with white beards and safari jackets straining over their bellies. They all wanted to be Hemingway, to live his outdoorsy, action-packed life.”

When I hear the word, “Stage three” in Japanese, I instantly associate it with the significantly progressed or serious stage of cancer at the “Stage III,” where surgical operation might no longer be so helpful, but “Stage three” in the above quote seems to simply imply a life stage passing the prime of age.

Is it a common wording, “stage I, II, III, and IV of a person”, like “Stage three Hemingways”? Is President Obama now on his “Stage II”?

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Summary: It is not common (I'd never heard it before), it's a clever connection between the medical usage and a biography of someone famous, it's mostly cultural reference (medicine and Hemingway) so might be kind of obscure. You could do the same thing with Mishima stage III (bodybuilder). It doesn't work with Obama (just doesn't fit biographically). –  Mitch Oct 17 '11 at 12:41
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1 Answer

This is figurative usage. I would not say it's common, but I believe it would be widely understood in the US.

Just as you associate Stage III with a medical term indicating that you have a "serious case" of something, if you poetically call someone a stage-three X, it's as if that X is a disease, and the person in question has got it bad.

What's important to recognize about this phrase is that it's generally used in a mocking way. In this context, the narrator is mocking overweight older men who have dreams of being like the young, outdoorsy, manly author Hemingway.

Another example: If your best friend went away to college and became obsessed with indie music, oversized glasses and tight pants, when you met on winter break you might say she'd become a stage-three hipster.

Probably because the phrase is intended to insult or mock someone, you don't really hear about stage-two Xs - why insult people less when you can insult them more? (But there's no reason you couldn't use it - e.g., If Max is a stage-three band geek, Mary is just a stage-two.)

You would probably not use this to describe Obama (unless it were as part of an insult similar to the ones above).

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@Onomatomaniac. Thank you very much for your in-depth information, which was very helpful. There’s one thing I should make it clear. I querried if I can say “Obama on Stage II” in the meaning of “someone at the prime of age” as against “over weight older men” (as you described) on Stage III in his life stage, as I imagined each Stage I, II, III, IV represents for the life stages of Teens, Youth, Middle aged and Eldery. I’m not refering to his second election, and have no intent to joke about him. –  Yoichi Oishi Oct 17 '11 at 8:57
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@YoichiOishi Stage I, II, III, IV are not commonly used in reference to the stages of people's lives. Sorry if I didn't make that clear. –  onomatomaniak Oct 17 '11 at 9:58
    
Do you have any evidence for "it is widely understood"? –  Peter Taylor Oct 17 '11 at 11:34
    
@PeterTaylor I don't, no. But I've seen the usage frequently enough and in enough varied contexts that I wouldn't have anticipated a reasonably educated (American) speaker's confusion. –  onomatomaniak Oct 17 '11 at 11:39
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Ok. I'm a native en-gb speaker and find it novel and opaque; COCA doesn't seem to have any relevant usage - its examples of "stage three" seem to be about literal stages which are understood from context (or unrelated constructions like "appearing on stage three times"). –  Peter Taylor Oct 17 '11 at 11:49
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