What is the daytime temperature like?

Very hot! We're talking 50 degree temperatures here.

(Note: This question is about the unique usage of "talk" in a special context such as this one here to mean "talk about". It's nothing in common with the one already asked)

  • 1
    Not to mention we're talking telephone numbers (usually, a lot of money rather than heat). Or just about anything can be figuratively pressed into service - we're talking caviar if it's a swanky eaterie, for example. Commented May 31, 2015 at 17:35
  • 1
    I'm not sure whether the confusion lies in the semantics or the grammar. Is it a question of mentioning that we're talking while we're talking, or a question of how "we're talking something" is shorthand for "we're talking about something"? Commented May 31, 2015 at 22:19
  • Answered at What's the difference between "speak" and "talk", grammatically speaking? (User21820's answer). Commented May 31, 2015 at 22:24
  • @Edwin Ashworth: I read through User21820's answer. Which part of it says "we're talking" = "we're talking about"? I found no relevance.
    – Sankarane
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 11:07
  • << A few examples of other lexical meanings: ... "I'm talking grammar here": A transitive meaning of "talk". This can be used in place of "grammatically speaking", but conveys talking to the audience about grammar rather than simply stating something. >>[bolding mine] Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 14:28

2 Answers 2


Robert Chapman & Barbara Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, third edition (1994) has this two-definition entry for talk:

talk v by 1924 To inform; confess and implicate others; =SQUEAL: Socks would never never talk. 2 v To talk about; have as one's topic [Usage note:] Always in the progressive tenses: The administrators aren't talking toga parties—Macon Telegraph/ What we're talking here ... is seventy-five a key... —Ed McBain

The two meanings of talk reported here are not especially closely related, it seems to me, but the significant point is that the dictionary identifies the first definition as being in use "by 1924," strongly suggesting the second definition was not in use significantly before 1924, since definitions appear in chronological order.

Nevertheless, a Google Books search turns up this instance of "talking a big dividend" from "Baldwin Locomotive," in Financial World (April 29, 1918):

There were rumors abroad this week that Baldwin Locomotive would soon resume dividends on the common stock. If it does not there will be scores of people in Wall Street whose “inside information" will not be considered trustworthy hereafter, as they have been talking a big dividend that would come soon, and pointing out that the company's revenues last year were equivalent to $49 a share on the $20,000,000common stock.

And from M.P. Gould Company, "Subject: Are You Ready to Advertise," in Printer's Ink (September 28, 1922):

After 26 years of advertising experience we refuse to get excited over any new advertising proposition that has not had a proper "work-out."If the advertiser is talking a big appropriation before he has proven both his product and his method of merchandising, then in our opinion he is even less attractive as a new client.

The idiomatic expression "talking a good game" first appears in Google Books search results in an advertisement for Spalding sports equipment in Life magazine (May 26, 1947):

The American sportsman (may the sun shine on all his week ends) is one of the world's clear-eyed realists.

"Talking a good game," sums up his quick scorn of claims without performance. When he hasn't got both eyes on the ball—they're likely to be looking at the record.

  • Thanks. So, in similar contexts as the above, "we're talking" means "we're talking about". But could you say briefly how to explain this? What's the special usage here?
    – Sankarane
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 10:19
  • @Sankarane: I'm not at all sure that it emerged as a special rhetorical strategy, as opposed to being a familiar formulation in another language adopted into English. Specifically, it suggests to me a natural response to the question "What are you talking?"—which I associate with Borscht Belt comedians imitating speakers who are at least as comfortable with Yiddish speech patterns as with English ones. But I haven't found any definite evidence that Yiddish-English may be the source of the phrasing. And "talking a good game" may have evolved independently of "talking a big dividend," etc.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 15:40

In American speech this collocation occurs in contexts like this:

It was hot. Real hot. We're talking people-passing-out-in-the-street hot.

It's a rhetorical strategy, introducing a phrase that gives a dramatic "spin" to an immediately prior assertion.

It's a casual way of speaking. Its more formal counterparts might be "by which I mean" or "which is to say".

  • I was going to quibble over the American speech bit, on the grounds that it seems to me a perfectly natural usage in BrE too. But comparing the two corpora in this NGram for talking big money I see the prevalence is about twice as high in AmE. Noting also how relatively recent the usage is, I guess you're right to imply it started in the US. Commented May 31, 2015 at 18:59
  • @FumbleFingers; we're talking... does sounds like "hard-boiled" Americana to me, but I was referencing AmE only because it's what I know best.
    – TimR
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 23:19
  • This is an even more stretched usage, to 'talking + adjective phrase' rather than to 'talking + noun phrase'. Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 14:38

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