5

Dictionaries say the phrasal verb come in for is used in a negative context.

Oxford: receive or be the object of (a reaction), typically a negative one

MW Learner's: to get or be given (something unpleasant, such as criticism) : to be subjected to (something)

Cambridge: to receive blame or criticism

Macmillan: to receive something such as criticism

In the novel Murder at Monte Carlo (published in 1933) I saw it being used in a positive context.

They can't understand a chap who's come in for a title and a decent spot of the ready not being anxious to get his hands on it.

I know, Oxford mentions 'typically' when defining come in for, so it might be perfectly fine to use it for positive things received. Is it?

Or does it sound contrived or out of place or dated, or perhaps an attempt at being humorous?

  • 1
    I think the suggestions inyour last sentence sum up the situation perfectly. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 25 '17 at 12:27
  • 2
    I believe that 'come in for' in the book is a subtly different usage from that defined in the dictionaries, and also that it is rather archaic. The defined and current usage refers to something which at least one other person chooses to inflict on the subject (punishment, criticism etc) whereas to 'come in for' in the other sense refers to something beneficial to which they are entitled by right. In this case an inheritance. From the context it is also a variation on the expression 'come into' as in 'come into a fortune' emphasising the fact that the inheritance is available but not claimed. – BoldBen Jun 25 '17 at 13:52
  • @BoldBen probably so, but it's interesting that the OED includes both uses under one entry. – AmE speaker Jun 25 '17 at 14:03
  • @BoldBen: I don't think that there a sense of 'available but not claimed' with 'come into a fortune', rather a sense of happenstance or unexpectedness – Conor Sep 19 '17 at 2:57
  • @conor But in the passage quoted in the OP the character says '...who's come in for a ... spot of the ready not being anxious to get his hands on it' implying exactly what I said, that the inheritance is available to him but that he has not claimed it. – BoldBen Sep 21 '17 at 8:15
1

Usage of 'come in for' in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

In the 1700s and 1800s, the phrase "come in for" seems to have been used primarily in a neutral or positive sense. For example, from Rugan v. West (January 2, 1808), in Horace Binney, Reports of Cases Adjudged in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (1809), where the phrase evidently means "be entitled to":

The security does not alter the case, whether justly or unjustly obtained. If unjustly, it is out of the question. If justly, they [the creditors] might have applied for the sale of it, and have come in for the residue; and their choosing to hold to the security cannot make them less a creditor; if it is insufficient, the certificate bars as to the deficiency, and this shews them to be a creditor.

A subsequent case in the same volume, Grasser v. Eckart (April 1, 1809) uses the phrase in a similarly neutral or positive sense:

The son was the only object to interfere with the executors. He takes the whole real estate of the testator, which was of great value; he also takes certain specific legacies, and a small money legacy which it would have been absurd to give him, and to lock up in his chest, were he to come in for a large portion of the surplus.

From Joseph Fay, A Disquisition on Imprisonment for Debt: As the Practice Exists in the State of New-York (1818), where the meaning of the phrase evidently amounts to "receive":

Departing from this high ground, however, and considering the subject merely in the light of expediency, I will now proceed, in a more formal manner, to canvass the usual arguments for imprisonment, and in the course of my speculations, suggest some amendments, which I conceive may obviate some of the more considerable objections to which the present system is obnoxious. Our insolvent laws will necessarily come in for a measure of consideration, as they are interwoven with those which relate to imprisonment for debt.

Robert Latham, A Dictionary of the English Language, volume 1 (1876) spells out the main contemporaneous sense of "come in for," which evidently prevailed in both the United States and Great Britain:

Come in. ... e. With for the (division and accentuation being come-in for). Be in the way of obtaining; obtain; get.

[Examples:] Shape and beauty, worth and education, wit and understanding, gentle nature and agreeable humour, honour and virtue, were to come in for their share of such contracts.—Sir W. Temple

If thinking is essential to matter, stocks and stones will come in for their share of privilege.—Çollier, Essay on Thought.

The rest came in for subsidies, whereof they sunk considerable sums.—Swift.

However, Samuel Johnson's 1755 edition of the same Dictionary of the English Language (which Latham updated) offers a somewhat different take on the relevant phrase, although it includes the same quotations from Temple , Collier, and Swift:

To COME in for. To be early enough to obtain: taken from hunting, where the dogs that are slow get nothing.


Instances of recent positive usage of 'come in for' today

Although "come in for criticism [or blame or censure]" may today be the most common larger phrase that begins with "come in for"—making it quite natural to imagine that the phrase tends to introduce something in a negative way—it is not at all hard to find instances where the phrase has a neutral or positive sense. The most obvious positive phrase may be "come in for praise"—an expression that a Google Books search finds several recent matches for. For example, from Klaus Kreimeier, The Ufa Story: A History of Germany's Greatest Film Company, 1918-1945 (University of California Press, 1999):

It is therefore not surprising that Der Kinematograph gave the premiere of the Murnau film [Tartuffe] a panegyric that was truly outstanding for its lack of imagination and its hackneyed language. There was nothing about the film that did not come in for praise: "the superb photography" by Karl Freund, the "excellent architecture" by Robert Herlth and Walter Röhrig, the "truly brilliant casting" of Emil Jannings in the title role, the dramatic art of Lil Dagover, "a sophisticated, worldly actress who, in this role, played a classical part in a classical style,"

From Peter E. Knox & ‎J.C. McKeown, The Oxford Anthology of Roman Literature (Oxford University Press, 2013):

In the Nigrinus, Lucian takes on a theme familiar from Juvenal, a denunciation of modern vice as exemplified by the decadence of contemporary Rome. It is presented as Lucian's report of a visit that he made to Rome seeking medical treatment and a conversation that he had there with a Platonist philosopher, Nigrinus, who lived in the capital but had withdrawn from its turmoil. The thread that provides continuity to their conversation is the contrast between Athens, from which Lucian has just come, and Rome. The people of Athens come in for praise because "philosophy and poverty are their foster-brothers, and they don't look with favor on anyone, citizen or foreigner, who tries to force luxury into their lives."

And from Philip Goff, ‎Arthur Farnsley & ‎Peter Thuesen, The Bible in American Life (Oxford University Press, 2017):

The New Testament receives far less space in the Woman's Bible than the Old, but Elizabeth, Anna, and Jesus's mother come in for praise; Mary becomes the subject of Cady Stanton's expansive remarks on motherhood. Jesus is regarded as innocent of patriarchy, while Paul takes the blame for women's subordination in Christianity.


Conclusion

I have no doubt that the definitions offered by the dictionaries cited in the poster's question reflect a modern real-world tendency to use "come in for" negatively, in conjunction with words such as criticism, blame, censure, or punishment. But it would be inaccurate to claim that historically the phrase carried a primarily negative connotation or to suggest that today it is never used in positive contexts.

The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century examples noted above show that instances of "come in for" used in a positive or neutral sense have appeared in English writing for hundreds of years, and examples of "come in for praise" in recent books from reputable publishers indicate that such positive usage still occurs today.

0

I checked out some of the dictionary definitions you mentioned and noticed they were generally being used in the context of something abstract. For example, the first you cited used it as reactionary:

Oxford: come in for sth, phrasal verb with come

"The director has come in for a lot of criticism over his handling of the affair."

Now while I've never read Murder at Monte Carlo, so I'm unsure of the nuances, but it seems this is one of those more nuanced scenarios. It seems to me that it's being used in a literal context-- he was more literally given a title and he physically came to Marseilles. Of course, they did mention that it was generally negative, not always negative, and thus it could be exactly the same, and simply not being used as the general term. I've never used the phrase like that, and today I would use "to recieve", even if it has a neutral connotation.

0

You ask:

I know, Oxford mentions 'typically' when defining come in for, so it might be perfectly fine to use it for positive things received. Is it?

Or does it sound contrived or out of place or dated, or perhaps an attempt at being humorous?

The usage of "come in" might be more straightforward than that. Here's the quote with a little more context:

I got off at Marseilles and I was doing a tramp around here to sort of get my bearings, but the lawyers are getting a bit sniffy now. They can't understand a chap who's come in for a title and a decent spot of the ready not being anxious to get his hands on it.

Getting off at Marseilles and tramping around here relate to the character's arrival and presence at Marseilles. It's in that sense that he had "come in" - he had entered Marseilles. That is, he's saying that the lawyers are puzzled about someone who has made the effort to journey to Marseilles in order to receive a title etc, but who seems to be taking his time about it now that he has entered Marseilles.

As @GlobalCharm comments, it's more common to say that someone came into a title (by way of inheritance, for example). To say that they came in for a title is somewhat dismissive of the title.

  • +1 for offering this alternative explanation. However, if you compare a chap who came into a title with a chap who came in for a title, the latter suggests that the character sees the title as a mixed blessing. – Global Charm Oct 4 '17 at 22:12
  • Thanks @GlobalCharm. I've now noted that wordplay in my answer. – Lawrence Oct 4 '17 at 22:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.