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Today’s New York Times carries an article with the headline, “James Gorman of Morgan Stanley, Going Against Type,” followed by the lead copy:

Forgoing Wall Street flash, Morgan Stanley’s chief executive is finding safer ways for the firm to make money.

I first guessed “Go against type” as “go against typical pattern or traditional way of thinking, which usually means ‘aggressive, abrasive and revolutionary,” but the succeeding copy goes against my preconception:

“In the process, James Gorman and Morgan Stanley are becoming the face of what may be Wall Street’s future: highly profitable, to be sure, but with fewer of the grand ambitions or larger-than-life personalities that have always characterized the place. “I’m pretty invisible, and that’s just fine,” he acknowledged."

It seems “go against type” implies James Gorman is taking a steadier and life-sized approach of management as against aggressive and speculative business approaches of Morgan Stanley in the past.

However, I don’t find the phrase, “Go against type” neither in CED or OED, though I find “Go against sb./ sth (flow, the grain)” in CED.

Is “Go against type” a stand-alone idiom, or just one of variations of “Go against sth,”?

Can “go against type” be often used in such a way of simply meaning “different from the old way,” as used in the above article, without projecting any revolutionary, ambitious, and abrasive tones and a sort of bulldozing approach that come first from the word, “go against X”?

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I think go against type is derived from the more common expression playing against type:

hinting at the fact that James Gorman is not 'acting as usual' but he is changing his attitude towards employees at Morgan Stanley. By letting his top bond trader go refusing to pay huge bonuses he let all others trades understand that things have changed and probably a more stable and less speculative approach is expected from them.

The hiring of an actor to play a certain part which differs fundamentally from roles the actor is famous for or has played in the past. For instance, an actress who is known for playing kindly old grandma types suddenly cast as a scheming murderess. This is generally done when an actor wants to 'stretch his/her wings' or 'try something different'. It usually leads to an Oscar for the actor in question. Often, it can be very useful in The Reveal. Comedies will frequently use this trope for laughs; a wacky line will often sound much funnier coming out of the mouth of someone you'd never expect to say such a thing. If it works very well, it can even change their career.

Ngram shows a recent increase in the use of the expression go against type though it is not still that common.

I think it is an effective expression used to convey the idea that there is a change in attitude from a somewhat fixed or usual one.

  • From your answer and Ngram chart, it seems to be a pretty new phrase, and not the derivative from the idiom, "go against sth." Doesn't it? – Yoichi Oishi Jun 29 '14 at 23:18
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    Looking at the Ngram it seems play against type was likely derived from cast against type. Through a bit of googling I found some usage of date against type, and write against type and some others. Possibly against type is becoming a phrase unto itself. – Neil W Jun 30 '14 at 0:54
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    @Yoichi-san ~ mine is just an assumption, since 'playing against type' is easily found in general reference while 'go against type', as you said, is not. Plus the way it is used in the article suggests that the meaning is very close to it. As Neil suggests in his comment 'against type' is probably the 'core' sentence which is more often used with verbs like cast and play. – – user66974 Jun 30 '14 at 4:26
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    @Josh61.Your quote from tvtropes.org’s definition of “play the type” really matches the role that James Gorman has performed. He took an entirely different approach from his predecessors in running new Morgan Stanley. Clearly “Go against type” isn’t a kin of “Go against flow / the grain” that I first associated with. – Yoichi Oishi Jun 30 '14 at 7:42
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    Even more common, and still closely related to the thespian context, is {act} out of character. @Yoichi - I assume you've got the main point now, that if someone plays/goes against type, the "type" they're not following is their own established nature, not some more general concept relating to society at large. – FumbleFingers Jun 30 '14 at 12:51
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Your instinct is basically correct, in that “Go against type” as “go against typical pattern or traditional way of thinking."

In the Wall Street context, it does NOT mean "aggressive, abrasive and revolutionary” because those are terms that could define Wall St. firms, i.e. Morgan Stanley's peers.

Having "fewer of the grand ambitions or larger-than-life personalities" is actually "going against type" when it is true that such "have always characterized the place."

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