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There was the following line in Time magazine’s (December 9) article, titled, “All Eyes on Des Moines as GOP Candidates Head into Crucial Debate.”

This week’s ad wars in Iowa presage a pile-on: Gingrich was the target of a blistering Ron Paul ad, and over the past two days Mitt Romney’s team has emerged from its defensive crouch to attack Gingrich on a variety of fronts in an effort to sow doubts about his conservative credentials, character and long career in Washington.

Though I understand “a pile-on” in “This week’s ad wars in Iowa presage a pile-on” means “a lot” or “lots of things,” I can’t tell whether it is used as the objective (noun) of “presage” or the adverb to modify presage (There is no definition of pile-on as a noun in neither Cambridge nor Merriam-Webster dictionary).

I’m afraid there wouldn’t be much difference either way I take it, but grammatically speaking, which way should I take it?

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1 Answer 1

It is being used as a noun, as the object of 'presage'.

In this context, a 'pile-on' is not just "a lot of things" but "a lot of people doing the same offense-oriented action to the same target". I believe that the term comes from American Football, where you will still sometimes see a player get tackled by an opponent, and then a second, third, and perhaps fourth opponent jumps on to help "make sure" that the original player is well and truly tackled, quite literally forming a pile of bodies to hold down that player. Even more players may jump on to the pile, or "pile on", well after the play has been decided.

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@Hellion.It was hard for a Japanese septuagenarian to whom sports mean only Sumo wrestling, Jujutsu, Karate, boxing and baseball to associate “a pile-on” with American football, with which I have no knowledge. Now that hearing your explanation, I was able to get a sense of it. I realize that understanding foreign language is difficult unless you fully understand the culture behind the language. –  Yoichi Oishi Dec 11 '11 at 7:45

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