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I’m a bit perplexed with the interpretation of the ending line of the following sentence in the December 3rd Time magazine’s article dealing with this year’s Kennedy Center Honors award winners under the title, “Kennedy Center Honors Letterman, Led Zeppelin, Dustin Hoffman”

“The Kennedy Center Honors, in their 35th year, are lifetime achievement awards for those who have upended or embodied culture as we know it. - - Past honorees range from Fred Astaire to Johnny Cash to Yo-Yo Ma. This year’s pack of legends was an especially eclectic group of upending types who took expectations and spectacularly showed them the door.”

What does “an especially eclectic group of upending types who took expectations and spectacularly showed them the door” mean?

Who or What does “them” here represent for? Is it “eclectic group of upending types who took expectations” or “expectations”? If it is the latter, can we show "expectation” which is an impersonal entity to door?

According to en.wikitionary, “show someone the door” means either (1) To escort someone to the exit of the premises, which I take a cordial manner, or (2) To expel (kick off) someone from a room, gathering, etc., which I take a cold-hearted manner. Which of (1) and (2) is applicable to the above ending line?

I’m curious of if this is good writing I should emulate or not.

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I suppose we should be grateful that Time maintains its ancient tradition of "speaking Lucely". I have no problem with the figurative use of showed them the door, but upend is forced and the attributive participle upending is eccentric. –  StoneyB Dec 4 '12 at 12:42
    
The sentence in question is such a vile, pompous, pseudo-intellectual mess that I suggest you do not waste your time in trying to decipher it. –  Barry Brown Dec 5 '12 at 12:23

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Them refers to the expections; that is:

This year’s pack of legends was an especially eclectic group of upending types who took expectations and spectacularly showed those expectations the door.

In other words, this group was unconventional, they were pioneers, they surprised people by stretching the boundaries of creativity and excellence.

I think the sentence works fine, but I'd be cautious about emulating it. Applying the metaphor of showing the door to something like expectations might easily fall flat if you're not completely sure about the nuances of what you are writing.

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'I think the sentence works fine, but I'd be cautious about emulating it.' ... goes straight into my list of quotes (section: English usage). Ta. –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 4 '12 at 22:37

To show someone the door need not be cordial at all. Here, it is applied to the expectations, so that, to me, the sentence means that the upending types considered whatever was expected of them and rejected it in favour of something much more ambitious.

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The "them" are expectations.

It's a fanciful way of saying that the group of performers exceeded expectations.

By showing expectations the door, they are dismissing expectations (which I interpret to mean limits).

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As the first sentence states, the Kennedy Center Honors are for those who have, throughout their careers, either personified (embodied) popular culture, or turned it on its head (upended it).

The sentence in question means that 35th anniversary group of honorees were a diverse collection of the latter type (upending), who took the norms and conventions (expectations) of their field of endeavor, and dismissed them summarily (showed them the door, i.e. kicked them out).

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