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In an English movie, I saw one lady tell another

Your button is undone!

meaning Your button is unbuttoned.

So can we say "Do your button" to mean Button your button?

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You button a button to close a button. Button is both a verb and a noun. (One could fasten a button as well.) To open a garment, you unbutton (or unfasten) the buttons. –  J.R. Dec 1 '12 at 12:46
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Whoever thought this was 'not a real question' could have posted 'the real answer.' –  Kris Dec 1 '12 at 12:51
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@Kris the point about "not a real question" is that there is no "real answer" meta.stackexchange.com/a/10583/147247 –  Kate Gregory Dec 1 '12 at 15:01
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@Kris the question is an inquiry about the degree of idiomaticity of a particular English construction. Questions of this type are both practical and answerable, and are patently "actual" problems for non-native speakers, since knowing whether a particular construction is more or less idiomatic is needed to use the construction effectively. I would object to closing on "real question" grounds. –  jlovegren Dec 2 '12 at 17:17
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I never declared this to be "not a real question". I simply pointed out that "hey, if you think it's not a real question you should post the real answer" is a nonsensical comment. By definition, if it's not a real question it doesn't have a real answer. Your point supports the contention that it is a real question. I haven't voted to close it, so you can assume I agree with you on that. –  Kate Gregory Dec 6 '12 at 2:37

6 Answers 6

up vote 8 down vote accepted

This is completely understandable to me as well, if not idiomatic.

I would add that a construction you are more likely to hear and use than

"X your button" (where X signifies: do, fasten, button, button up, fix)

is

"button your Y" (where Y signifies: shirt, pants, jacket, lip)

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In my experience, the common expression would be do up your button. You might also hear button up if button is used as a verb. I don't think you would hear native speakers say "open your button" or "close your button".

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Button your button is an unlikely thing for a speaker of British English to say. We’d say Do your button up.

Button itself is a verb as well as noun, but when used as such it, too, also often occurs with up.

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I might say "do your button up" or "do up your button" but I might also replace "button" with whatever it's supposed to hold closed (eg "do your shirt up") unless that was unmentionable –  Kate Gregory Dec 1 '12 at 14:59
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In American, "button your button" is completely normal. –  The Photon Dec 1 '12 at 17:42
    
@The Photon. OK. Answer amended. –  Barrie England Dec 1 '12 at 17:53
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I think (speaking as an American) that "Do your button up" would be an unlikely thing for a speaker of General American English to say. –  Samuel Edwin Ward Dec 4 '12 at 14:59

"Do" in this case is simply a vague verb meaning "fix what's wrong with" your button. People talk like this all the time, especially us working class heroes. If your fly were open (either unzipped or unbuttoned), then someone who uses that type of expression would say "Do your fly" or "Do your zipper". It may not be a standard idiom, but it's perfectly understandable, and I wouldn't bat an eye were I to hear it.

I don't see why you can't use it when speaking to someone.

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Obviously, however, the phantom downvoter doesn't like the idea, but what does he or she know beyond random mouse clicks? –  user21497 Dec 1 '12 at 13:40
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You're quite right; it's perfectly clear and unobjectionable. On the other hand, I've never heard or seen it, and I'd never put it in a script for a native-speaker-of-English character of any age or class; it's the sort of thing I'd put in the mouth of a fluent non-native speaker. Perhaps I should have told OP, "Since you ask, button is the usual verb. But it's really not worth worrying about; work on verb tenses instead." –  StoneyB Dec 1 '12 at 15:02
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@StoneyB: You mean that your parents never said things like: "Hey, do your thingy, please." And then you say "Whatta ya mean, 'Do my thingy'?" "Your fly! Button yer goddam fly!" When my father wasn't calling me by the dog's name, or his brother's name, or my sister's name (I used to flabbergast him quite often, you see), he'd say things like that to me. –  user21497 Dec 1 '12 at 15:13
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Nope. Zip yourself up, perhaps, but where I come from people generally pointed out the unsatisfactory circumstance — Your fly's open or You're unzipped — rather than enjoining me to repair it. –  StoneyB Dec 1 '12 at 16:02
    
@BillFranke, thanks for the laugh! I also grew up in a house where "do" was used for many tasks -you just needed to know the context. –  Kristina Lopez Dec 1 '12 at 16:07

Here in the US, I wouldn't use "button" as the noun. I'd use the verb in one of many ways:

  • Button yourself up (Jacket or shirt)
  • Button up your pants (The button above the zipper)

And so on...

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Interesting point! I like it! –  Mistu4u Dec 1 '12 at 17:54

When one says that a button is undone, it is almost always understood that it is by accident that one of the buttons on a garment isn't buttoned. When a button gets unbuttoned by accident, you can say that, for example, Your top button has come undone, or My button came undone and everyone could see and they laughed at me.

If you order someone to button a button that has come undone, you can tell them Fix your button. I can only find one instance where do is used to mean "button." It is in a Parenting magazine in an article advising young parents on how to teach their children to groom themselves. If the child insists that the mother button his shirt for him, the mother is advised to tell the boy Now I'll do a button, then you do a button. Basically, do your button would probably only be appropriate to say in some kind of joint attention scenario where buttons are of high salience, and where buttoning a button is a kind of effortful activity.

For a non-native speaker, stick with fix your button or button your button.

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fix your button maybe, but button your button? –  Kris Dec 1 '12 at 13:06
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Why not button your button? May not be great style, but it's clear and simple(minded) English, ain't it? Button your lip, button your shirt, button your collar, button your blouse, or button your fly are probably all more normal and idiomatic. 'Richard Cory performs "You Better Button Your Buttons ('Cause it's Getting Cold Outside)" on February 4, 2011 at J.W. Mitchell High School.' NB: I do not recommend this YouTube video. –  user21497 Dec 1 '12 at 14:58

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