I recently saw the expression "get a (real) coating" in this book review:

Swales, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the only guy who gets a real coating, but only in passing

But I just cannot figure out what it means as I can't find it anywhere.

Any clue?

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    It's not at all common, but to coat someone off is (dated, imho) SE UK slang for say bad things about someone. So in your context, Swales is the only guy who comes in for heavy criticism. – FumbleFingers Jul 24 '14 at 15:21
  • This is a great example of idiomatic writing biting the author in the ass. I had zero understanding of this sentence until I read answers below. This must be almost exclusively British English. – Preston Jul 25 '14 at 11:40

I thought this use of coating was rather common, but looking in a selection of online dictionaries, I have only been able to find it documented in Collins, who define it (sense 3) as:

(English Midlands, dialect) a severe rebuke; ticking-off

So the sense is here that the author of the book writes some angry, nasty, negative, or at least critical things about this Swales person (whoever that is—someone who’s known not to be in good standing with the author, at any rate).

The word can also be used when referring to physical ‘rebukes’, to mean a sound thrashing:

He was attacked by some thugs on the way home from the pub the other night. Got a real coating too, by the sounds of it.

I have always thought that this sense comes from the use of coating to mean a layer of paint on a wall: the person who gets the real coating is figuratively covered in a thin layer of punches or criticisms. Thinking more closely about it, I realise it might just as well be an extension of the normal meaning of a coat, i.e., the person is ‘dressed’ in punches and criticism, wearing them like a coat.

  • 2
    I suspect the allusion might be to give him a coating of tar and feathers (as a way of publicly calling attention to his shortcomings), but I've hardly ever heard any variations of coat used in this way. Much more common is give him a pasting, which (as with coating) often means subject to a physical rather than verbal attack. – FumbleFingers Jul 24 '14 at 15:39
  • @FumbleFingers Interesting. To me, pasting is almost unknown, while coating is perfectly normal and colloquial. I don’t recall ever hearing anyone say pasting in conversation—it’s one of those words for me that you read in books and understand, but never really hear anyone use in real life. Anyway, I like your idea of the tar and feathers origin—never occurred to me before, but it sounds very plausible. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 24 '14 at 16:16
  • Checking Google Books for gave him a coating (excluding "coating of", which usually continues with tar or similar), there's only one relevant result. But there are plenty of gave him a pasting, which I still hear all the time. – FumbleFingers Jul 24 '14 at 16:37
  • @FumbleFingers I can’t seem to find it used much online, either. Odd. I would be more likely to say that someone gets a real coating (and always with an adjective: real, proper, right, thorough, etc.) than that someone gives someone else one. Not sure why. Trouncings, thrashings, lashings, poundings, and I presume pastings as well all work just fine in either direction, giving or getting; but coatings seem to be gotten more than given, at least in my head. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 24 '14 at 16:49
  • Sticking to Google Books, I find a few dozen instances of got a real/right pasting, but none at all for either adjective with coating. I'm not saying it's never used, but I do think coating is both relatively uncommon and somewhat dated compared to pasting (and thrashing - but that's always used of physical assault, so far as I know). – FumbleFingers Jul 24 '14 at 16:54

Superficially, a real coating and a real hiding may both seem related to outer coverings. However, noun hiding (“A beating or spanking”) apparently derives from verb hide (“To beat with a whip made from hide”), as distinct from the noun's sense, “One's own life or personal safety, especially when in peril”, where hide is like skin.

Note, ngrams shows a real coating to have little or no currency in books, and shows a real pasting as slightly less common than a real hiding.

The difference is more pronounced in ngrams for got a coating, got a pasting, got a hiding, with the latter far more common than the first two.

  • Yeah, "hiding" has always implied to me beating with a whip or, more likely, a belt. You're apt to get a hiding from your dad and a pasting from the neighborhood bully. – Hot Licks Mar 22 '17 at 21:35
  • @HotLicks I've always thought that if you got a hiding it meant that your hide got beaten, whatever it was beaten with, – BoldBen Mar 22 '17 at 21:48
  • @BoldBen - I never worried much about the details -- I just knew I wanted to avoid it! – Hot Licks Mar 22 '17 at 22:18

In London in early 1980s I heard the phrase used to mean making fun of someone too - not physical violence but lighthearted verbal banter. e.g. 'He had a ridiculous haircut and we gave him a right coating about it.' or 'You'll get a coating if you turn up looking like mate.'

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