What does the American idiomatic expression "2 x 4" exactly mean? I've read a very interesting book by Father Donald H. Calloway, No turning back (an autobiography and a conversion story), and chapter 10 is entitled "The divine 2 x 4". Could that mean the divine surprise, the divine intervention?


2x4 (two by four) is a standard size piece of wood (in nominal inches).

Being hit by a 2x4 is a common idiom for sudden understanding or for surprise.

I imagine in this case Father Calloway has had a sudden understanding of something to do with religion, hence him describing the 2x4 as divine (from a God).

Edited to add some details from the comments below

'2x4' is the nominal cross-sectional size by some number of feet in length.

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    To clarify a little further, it refers to the dimensions of the cross-section of a beam or spar. A 2x4 would measure 2 inches by 4 inches by some number of feet. – Dancrumb Jun 22 '14 at 15:49
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    On a technical level, the '2x4' is the nominal cross-sectional size -- typically the actual size is smaller (and varies by country). – J.J. Green Jun 22 '14 at 15:59
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    Note that "2 x 4" is normally "two times four". It's only in the context of carpentry that it's pronounced "two-by-four". Note also that "a two-by-four" can be a count noun, meaning a plank of that size, or it can be a mass noun used in compounds, like two-by-four stock. – John Lawler Jun 22 '14 at 17:03
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    The US, where huge proportion of the population intimately participate in building or renovating our homes with the coincidence of standard sizes of lumber, as well as in coincidence with the widespread popularity of wood-based structures. Not so, in other countries where intimate involvement of big govt micromanages you from doing anything to your own home. – Blessed Geek Jun 22 '14 at 18:03
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    @JohnLawler Same in the UK but with be for by fourbetwo – Frank Jun 22 '14 at 19:32

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