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I found the phrase “Pick up your socks” and “Have your socks bronzed” in the following sentence of Maureen Dawd’s article in today’s New York Times:

“When Barack is cocky and looks at Michelle, he might see her thinking: “You’re no messiah. Pick up your socks.” But when Newt is cocky and looks at Callista, he sees her thinking: “You are the messiah. We’ll have your socks bronzed.”

As the sentence is followed by the line, “Where Michelle sees herself as the puncturer of delusions, ‘the Department of ‘Let’s Get Real,’ as an aide called her,” I can guess “pick up your socks” means “know yourself, be realistic” and “have your socks bronzed,” means “make you glorious/ grandeur”

Is my understanding right or off the mark? Are both of the phrases popular expressions as the antithesis?

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As @Jack says, neither of these expressions are "standard". But I think you overstate the interpretation of Pick up your socks. It just means Obama's wife probably tends to see him as an ordinary man who leaves his socks lying around on the floor like any other slob. Mothers and wives say it all the time, but it's normally just a literal request/command. Dawd's reference to "bronzing socks" looks like a complete one-off usage to me - in context, just a witty contrast. – FumbleFingers Feb 5 '12 at 15:12
Tip for the future: you can prefix a block of text with the > character to put it in a "blockquote", like in my edit. – Hugo Feb 15 '12 at 16:41
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Neither is an idiom. Both are meant by the speaker (Michelle/Callista) literally. Of course, there is pragmatic intention of both that is beyond the literal meaning that has some slight cultural reference.

The first example 'pick up your socks' just means that Michelle is telling her husband that he should pick up his socks, because he still lives in reality, he is not all-important in all life's aspects, he is not 'king', there is no maid to follow him and pick up everything for him (his socks that he might otherwise be too lazy to pick up himself).

The second example 'have you socks bronzed' refers to the practice (not uncommon 50 years ago in the US but now I haven't heard of) of bronzing a baby's shoes once grown out of, in order to preserve them as a memento of childhood. The bronzed shoes are like a sculpture or monument to the wonder and preciousness of childhood. One might suggest to bronze something to preserve and memorialize any other everyday object (but I've only ever heard of it for baby shoes). 'To have X bronzed' means to take something very modest and preserve it as a sculpture (literally, not figuratively).

All that Dowd is doing is setting up a situational contrast 'you're still human/you're are like a god'.

There's nothing about the two phrases that are set language idioms (they don't have slightly altered grammar or mean anything more than the literal combination of words). That is, if someone is getting uppity, telling them to pick up their socks would not be understood as anything (unless there were socks on the floor in front of them).

Summary: The situations they apply to are antithetical, but, no, they are not popular expressions/set phrases.

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On a tangent, was are really necessary? Could it not be a simple neither (one) is an idiom? -- I'm not about which is correct. – Kris Feb 6 '12 at 6:11
"necessary"/"idiom"/"correct"? Can you elaborate? – Mitch Feb 6 '12 at 14:17
Your first sentence could as well be "neither (one) is an idiom" -- I do not see why you had to use are there. Hope this is elaborate enough. – Kris Feb 6 '12 at 14:45
Oh. I don't think I'm getting it. Why are you insisting on "had" and "necessary"? How could one possibly -have- to say something some way? To answer your questions literally, 1) "are" was not necessary, 2) yes, it could be as you suggest. But those questions feel rhetorical. So what are you getting at? Do you prefer the 'is' version to the 'are' version? – Mitch Feb 6 '12 at 15:16

At bottom, Barry, you're just a normal human and husband. You're no god. So behave as a human: pick up your own socks off the bedroom floor. Don't expect me to do it for you. And bring me a beer.


N00t, you're a god: not only will I willingly, worshipfully pick up your socks, your underwear, and your pajamas; but I'll preserve them permanently as mementos, as holy relics, by having them bronzed.

You have to read a few of Maureen's articles before you can grok her sense of humor.

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I’m actually a fervent reader of Maureen’s NYT column because it offers a lot of "gibberish" to non-native English speakers like me. I find it a good source of materials for my fishing questions and there’re many questions in fact in this site I picked up from her column. – Yoichi Oishi Feb 6 '12 at 0:56
+1 for 'You have to read a few of Maureen's articles before you can grok her sense of humor.' And @YoichiOishi, asking someone explain takes all the fun out of it and I think does no justice to Maureen's literary efforts. – Kris Feb 6 '12 at 6:05
I repeat I’m an earnest reader of NYT’s Maureen Dowd’s column. I love her idea, rhetoric and style. I don’t think asking a question about unfamiliar expressions that non-native English speakers come across more often in her statement than in those of ordinary writers in order to better understand what she meant takes away “all the fun” out of Maureen readers, much less spoils her prestige and achievement. I don’t want argue this issue any more. – Yoichi Oishi Feb 6 '12 at 8:44
@Yoichi Oishi -- Absolutely! It takes nothing from Maureen to discuss her peculiar (i.e., particular, singular, and unique) sense of humor and ways of expression. Discussion adds to the pleasure, in fact: we get to experience it again! – Pete Wilson Feb 15 '12 at 15:28
@Yoichi Oishi -- what an interesting idea, that Maureen's "gibberish" is helpful. I'd never have thought of that, but it must be true. Since you bring it up, I see it's the very reason that, in learning French, I try to read (though not fervently) both Le Monde (more straight news) and Le Figaro (more gibberish). – Pete Wilson Feb 15 '12 at 15:38

I've never heard either of these phrases used "in the wild". Yet, intuitively, their meaning is clear. I agree with the interpretation you have offered.

I do not think these are (very) popular phrases.

Language is not only standard. All users develop some individual expressions. However, as in the case above, these individualisms can become common currency. Especially if used by a prominent language user such as MD of the NYT.

This phenomenon is generally described as "coining a phrase".

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I hear "pick up your socks" all the time in the wild. – Mitch Feb 5 '12 at 14:50
It's called the Peter Pan syndrome, Mitch. – Jack Feb 5 '12 at 14:57
@Mitch In Australia, "pull up your socks" is pretty common, having the same meaning as "pick up your act" or "lift your game." (i.e, 'improve your performance'.) I can't personally recall hearing "pick up your socks" though. – Cam Jackson Feb 10 '12 at 0:09
@Cam: not from someone who sees your dirty socks on the floor? (remember it's not an idiom/figure of speech, it's saying literally "there are socks there on the floor in front of you...pick them up", with the expected inference being that you're not so great that someone will always be there to clean up your mess for you. – Mitch Feb 10 '12 at 1:25
Oh, my mistake, I thought you were saying you've heard it as an idiom for "You're not royalty, don't expect everyone else to do crappy jobs for you." The examples I gave were of idioms, not literal phrases. – Cam Jackson Feb 10 '12 at 2:49

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