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I've been reading god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens which is from time to time hard to understand for me.

I came across a sentence majority of which makes sense to me, but I lose the track at the end. Here are the sentence and the one following right after:

"Later Muslim conquests, impressive in their speed and scope and decisiveness, have lent point to the idea that these Arabic incantations must have had something to them. But if you allow this cheap earthly victory as a proof, you allow the same to Joshua’s blood-soaked tribes- men or to the Christian crusaders and conquistadores." - Chrsitopher Hitchens, god is not Great, p. 125.

I cannot get the meaning of "have something to them" here. I made my search through the net and found that lots of people use the phrase, which, sadly, did not do much for my understanding.

For example, one of the results given by my search is an article by Hendrick Hertzberg on 17 May 2015, that is:

"There’s the Clashing Nationalisms Theory: alarmed at the rise of the Scottish National Party and the prospect of a Labour-S.N.P. coalition that might accelerate the breakup of the United Kingdom, English voters stampeded rightward. There’s the—well, there are a lot of theories. All have something to them, and none are mutually exclusive."

Link: http://www.newyorker.com/news/hendrik-hertzberg/misrule-britannia-the-u-k-s-screwed-up-election

Another one is an article by Kimberly Lew which is as follows:

"Fourth Tier. These are the ideas that have something to them, but you can’t quite put your finger on it yet. It isn’t even a fully developed concept yet, but you know you’re going to think of it from time to time."

Link: http://www.crazytownblog.com/crazytown/brainfood/page/25/

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OP has misparsed the usages. You can have something on someone (you know something "secret" about them, giving you power to "blackmail" them). But you can't have something to [a person].

The cited usages are versions of the idiomatic there's something to it, meaning it's not a completely daft idea - there's at least a grain of truth in it. Or perhaps there is some point in doing it.


EDIT: In the same general area, it's worth noting there's nothing to it, which usually means it's easy. It is sometimes used to mean the exact opposite of the usage under consideration here, but I think most people use there's nothing in it when they mean it contains nothing of value or truth, though it can also mean there's no difference [between two things being compared].

  • Thank you very much. I edited the title upon the warning from both you and Brian Hitchcock. I now get the meaning better, or completely if it is safe to say that. – A.K. May 25 '15 at 17:57
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He means that the "incantations" had some content, some meaning, some "substance", because they seem to have had some effect.

That is, the events (seemingly) lend credence to the belief that these "incantations" (or in the case of Hendrick Hertzberg, "theories") were not empty and meaningless.

  • You'd better remove this copy! :) – FumbleFingers May 25 '15 at 14:15
  • Niggle: Hitchens himself is not attributing so much to them, only suggesting that some silly billies elsewhen thought so. – David Pugh May 25 '15 at 14:15
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He means that the "incantations" had some content, some meaning, some "substance", because they seem to have had some effect.

That is, the events lend credence to the belief that these "incantations" (or in the case of Hendrick Hertzberg, "theories") were not empty and meaningless.

Oh-- and as for your question title, "them" does not refer to anyone; it refers to the incantations and theories, respectively. I would have edited your title to "..something to IT", but perhaps that was the crux of your confusion.

  • Thank you as well, Brian Hitchcock. I edited the title and now I get what it means. – A.K. May 25 '15 at 18:00
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"there's something to it/them/NP" means that there is some substance in 'it', whatever 'it' refers to. It is usually in reference to something someone says and implies that you shouldn't dismiss them so easily.

The phrase looks very vague and empty and is not precise speech because of its dependence on the nuances of the preposition 'to'. In speech the emphasis is on 'to'.

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Your last example is a good general definition of theories, explanations, concepts that 'have something to them.'

ideas that have something to them, (but)

...You can’t quite put your finger on it yet. It isn’t even a fully developed concept yet, but you know you’re going to think of it from time to time. It’s not time to start putting pen to paper yet, but you recognize that it’s out there and might be worth developing if you can wrap your head around it a little more.

Hitchens is reluctant to 'develop, 'recognise,' 'get his head round,' this particular idea in case it compromises his ethical stance on other 'conquests with the aid of divine power.'

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