Here's the sentence with sputter that I don't understand.

With limited evidence that monetary easing is in fact lifting the real economy, growth risks falling off a cliff when government outlays sputter.

The meanings I can found in dictionaries for sputter is either to spit or to utter hastily.

From the translation attached to the sentence, it seems to mean that - the economic growth will start to fall once the government decreases its spending.

So perhaps my question should be what does "when government outlays sputter" means?

Thank you all.

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  • 2
    You need to consult more dictionaries. There are very common figurative uses of sputter applied to engines and more broadly to any process--see Collins, definition 2; Oxford, 1.3. – StoneyB Aug 20 '17 at 0:47
  • An engine "sputters" when it's barely running. – Hot Licks Aug 20 '17 at 0:49
  • The quotation has a couple of conceptual problems. First, "sputtering" has nothing to do with "falling off a cliff," so the sentence suffers from a mixed metaphor. Second, it is very difficult to see how government outlays (as opposed to, say, government programs) can "sputter," given that outlays are simply sums of money designated for particular purposes. No wonder you found the sentence confusing, Zhih-wei Wang: it is very poorly worded. – Sven Yargs Aug 21 '17 at 17:48

Technically they intend to say that the government spending is decreasing. However, by using sputter, they are saying that the spending is becoming irregular or inconsistent. Overall the effect is less, but it is not a smooth transition.

The term sputter is suggestive of an old automobile engine that is in poor tune. They could not run smoothly, speeding up and slowing down suddenly as the vehicle is driven. This was often referred to as sputter. A severe case would include backfire.

  • Also a candle can sputter and lose the flame. – aparente001 Aug 21 '17 at 5:49
  • This would be the original use of sputter. Perhaps that use is a better answer. I tend to go to my experience as a former mechanic. Thanks for the note! – Brian Stover Aug 23 '17 at 12:49

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