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Is it understandable if we say "run me ragged" or "run me exhausted" (in both of these expression "run" doesn't mean literal "running")?

  • I believe this would have been better asked on English Language Learners. Maybe someone will migrate it there. However, I wanted to at least share the link for future questions where ELL might be a better fit. – J.R. Oct 31 '13 at 9:40
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To run someone ragged is an idiom meaning:-

to keep someone or something very busy, to make someone very tired, usually by making them work too hard

To run someone exhausted isn't; although it would be understood it would sound odd.

To me, run someone ragged would also imply that they were becoming irritable due to the overwork, as well as just tired. It may also shade into giving someone the run-around.

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Yes, it is understandable.

In that context, run doesn't mean "running" as in walking, jogging, and running (intransitive verbs), but as in "running a computer" (or more generally, "running a machine")—perhaps closer in meaning to putting to work, and it's a transitive verb.

For me, it's more natural to analyze by first replacing the object, e.g.

Those long hours are sure to run [a person] ragged!

Here it's clear(er) to me that the expression is shorthand for run a person [until he or she is] ragged, or, coming back to your sentence: run me [until I am] ragged.

The same applies to exhausted, though less commonly used (if at all).

  • Once an expression becomes idiomatic, it can be very tricky deciding what the 'first usage' actually encapsulated. Was an athlete described by an observer as being 'run ragged' by his over-demanding trainer? Was one car described as being 'run ragged' when parts started dropping off, as contrasted with one that was 'run into the ground'? Was a drive-belt run until it became ragged? 'Run' has so many senses nowadays (including the delexical - run a temperature). However, since the expression here seems to date only from the 1920s, it should be possible to track down the origin. But I can't. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 31 '13 at 9:51
  • @EdwinAshworth Excellent question/point- I hope my answer adds value. – Jack Ryan Nov 1 '13 at 11:48
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  1. run me ragged literally: I ran until my breath was ragged.

    ragged 4 not regular. not regular or together: The crowd gave a ragged cheer.
    ragged breathing
    Longman's Dictionary of Contemporary English

  2. run me ragged figuratively: I worked/played for such a long time that I was tired. I was breathing regularly, however.

    ragged 5 tired. (informal) tired after using a lot of effort: He looked ragged, so I told him to go to bed. He ran United's defence ragged (=made them do a lot of work).
    Longman's Dictionary of Contemporary English

    Of the defense ("defence," if you prefer) : was their breath literally ragged i.e. uneven? At times, yes, but overall the other team just looked healthier.

  3. run me exhausted While this is understandable, I'm not sure this phrase is widely used literally or figuratively.

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