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Here is a quote from article:

The largest animals ever to have lived on Earth, blue whales are colossal in every respect — including, it must be said, the scatological. When a blue whale goes, it goes big.

I’m not native speaker, but it is pretty clear to what does it mean “when it goes, it goes big”. But it is clear for me only because of the context in which I’ve encountered this phrase.

My question is: As for native speaker, is this very phrase clear without any context provided?

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+1 your title is terrific –  Charles Aug 9 '12 at 20:28

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

No, it's entirely context dependent. With no context at all, if I heard someone say, "I need to go", I would assume that they meant that they were going to leave the room or building. However, if they had a certain expression on their face, it would be clear that they were using a polite circumlocution. That said, once you've introduced bodily elimination into the conversation, any references to "going" are going to be contextualized by that, even if you don't really want them to be.

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+1 for "a certain expression on their face." I've seen that expression on the face of my kids, during long cross-country drives, and knew exactly what they meant when they said, "I need to go" (although, in that context, it was perhaps a bit more likely to mean #1 than #2). –  J.R. Aug 9 '12 at 21:33

Without the preceding hint "scatological", I wouldn't interpret "goes" in this sentence that way.

However, "go" is commonly used informally to indicate pooping, especially in the phrase "I need to go [.. to the bathroom]."

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Interesting question and answers. As a native BE speaker I don't find myself agreeing concerning context. 'Needing to go' is a common enough idiom and is readily understood. The example 'when a blue whale goes, it goes big' would be appreciated immediately and raise a smile.

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I context is essential, at least in US English. This is a non-scatological quote from a governor about candidate Romney: "I hope that he [Romney] goes big and he goes bold." Talking about government reform, not bathroom habits. –  bib Aug 9 '12 at 21:11
    
I think we (BE) would understand that too without confusion! –  Tony Balmforth Aug 9 '12 at 21:15

As with many euphemisms, using "to go" to mean "to poop" is heavily context-dependent. However, it's also a common euphemism for using the bathroom, so it might very well be assumed to be used in that way in absence of any context. "Go" is a sort of chameleon word; while in most contexts it has meaning, that meaning can vary a lot.

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This is true. The phrase go big or go home, for example, has nothing to do with going to the bathroom. –  J.R. Aug 10 '12 at 14:50

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