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How can we explain the use of this "something" thing? I understand it, and I might even use it, but I'm having trouble putting my finger on what it conveys. I've provided two examples below:

Example 1

Ivan: How's it going Dan?

Dan: Not bad. Super busy these days with this whole tea thing.

Ivan: What is "this whole tea thing?"

Dan: The tea company I bought into. You know about that.

Ivan: Yeah, but why not just say "tea company?"

Dan: I dunno.

Example 2

Ivan: The weekend sure was fun.

Dave: Definitely. I didn't think I was into this ziplining thing, but I had a great time.

Ivan: What do you mean "this ziplining thing?"

Dave: I just mean ziplining.

Ivan: Why not just say "ziplining?"

Dave: I dunno.

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I think this "something" thing often means "something and related concerns", as opposed to just "something". So this ziplining thing means the activity of ziplining and also being part of the ziplining community, buying ziplining equipment and accessories, etc.

In the case of this tea thing, it's just an informal way to refer to something that the listener is assumed to be familiar with. the tea company sounds more formal.

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  • I reckon both examples in the OP can be included in the idea of 'thing' representing the complex 'hinterland' of the subject (the practical, logistical, financial, legal, social etc etc factors associated with the subject). – Dan Feb 13 '15 at 0:33
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I think of thing in the examples that Rusty Tuba provides as functioning as a deemphasizer—that is, as a way to play down the importance of the preceding noun by treating at as merely a subject or topic—the tea topic, or the ziplining subject, for example.

In everyday conversation, people may use this strategy of downplaying the significance of a particular subject for at least two very diffferent reason. One is to adopt a modest attitude toward something that they actually feel is a big deal—"this MacArthur genius grant thing I just won." The other is to express a certain disdain for an issue that someone else thinks is important.

The classic example of the latter situation involves the first President George Bush, who in early 1987 (while still vice president under Ronald Reagan) was dealing with criticism about his lack of clear goals and an overarching sense of mission with regard to the U.S. Presidency. Here is an excerpt from Robert Ajemian, "Where Is the Real George Bush?" that appeared in the January 26, 1987, issue of Time magazine:

Colleagues say that while Bush understands thoroughly the complexities of issues, he does not easily fit them into larger themes. This has led to the charge that he lacks vision. It rankles him. Recently he asked a friend to help him identify some cutting issues for next year’s campaign. Instead, the friend suggested that Bush go alone to Camp David for a few days to figure out where he wanted to take the country. "Oh," said Bush in clear exasperation, "the vision thing." The friend’s advice did not impress him.

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  • very interesting, and yes I think it can certainly serve to deemphasize or downplay out of modesty or to show disdain. And those are the two uses that occurred to me at first, but then the ziplining example threw me for a loop because it seems different. Perhaps it shows a kind of modesty when talking about something you're not very familiar with? – Rusty Tuba Feb 12 '15 at 23:40

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