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"Take On Me" is a song by the Norwegian band A-ha, from their album Hunting High and Low released in 1985, and the lyrics (and title) has been bothering me for the past thirty years or so. The chorus goes something like this:

Take on me (take on me)
Take me on (take on me)
I'll be gone
In a day or two

Now, the phrase "Take on me" sounds very much like a Scandinavianism for lack of a better word. (I don't speak Norwegian but I do speak Swedish. Meh. Close enough.) In Swedish you can translate this word for word:

Take - Ta (or: Tag)
On -
Me - Mig

What you end up with is "Ta på mig", which means touch me. It looks as if they just translated the Norwegian equivalent of touch me, word for word, and ended up with take on me. This would make sense, thematically.

But does it actually mean anything in English?

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    I’ve always wondered the same thing. Take on me doesn’t mean anything to me in English and intuitively feels very much like a Scandinavianism (that is the right word, by the way). Pretty sure a more accurate translation would be ‘feel me up’: ta på [noen] refers to lecherously groping someone, rather than just touching them in any old way. I’ve also always wondered what this would imply for take me on. If that’s a Scandinavianism too, then I’m lost, because ta mig på in Norwegian means ‘put me on [like a coat]’. So grope me and then put me on like a coat? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 22 '17 at 10:05
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    Please include the research you’ve done. Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. Checking for the multi-word verb 'take on' in a dictionary would be a start. / It is possible that conversational deletion is involved (Here's a take on me ...'. But this is also too broad for ELU, and POB as well. Song lyric interpretations are actually explicitly off-topic as they often use far from standard usages. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 22 '17 at 10:57
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    "Take me on" means challenge me, compete with me in some kind of adversarial situation. (He's pretty good ar chess, but he doesn't show any interest in taking me on.) But this is a verb + preposition combo that isn't movable; "take on me" is nonsense in standard English. – Steven Littman Oct 22 '17 at 11:26
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    @Edwin That would completely negate the question. The question is specifically about take on me, with that precise word order, and explicitly NOT about take me on with that word order. Take me on is irrelevant to the question, except as a different structure known to be grammatical. The question is essentially: “There is no doubt that take me on is grammatical and has (several) meaning(s). In addition to that, this song also uses the different verb take on me, which is not listed in dictionaries; is that also a grammatically and meaningful verb, or does it not exist in English?” – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 22 '17 at 22:49
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    This filtered Google data for "take on him" after eliminating false positives for 'my take on him' / 'a take on him' etc just leaves two false positives I didn't preclude. That would seem proof enough that standalone 'take on me' is non-standard. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 22 '17 at 23:00
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It's a music lyric and hence has some liberty.

But "take on" is a fairly common idiom in several contexts. It can mean "engage in combat", but a less aggressive meaning is to accept some burden or responsibility. Google finds "she didn't want to take on more responsibilities", "why would I want to take on an apprentice", "why did I want to take on the role as a GM", "I want to take on Usain Bolt's legacy", "does someone want to take on this project".

"Take on me" can thus be considered to be a plea for "you" to take on the burdens and responsibilities of having a relationship with "me". Or it can simply be considered a poetic rewording of "take me on" (which can itself be interpreted in a number of ways).

  • Or perhaps it's ... This answer is genref and then POB. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 22 '17 at 22:26
  • Most of this doesn’t actually work—only the last sentence is a possibility. The take on you mention and quote is a particle verb, not a preposition verb. That means that when its object is a pronoun, it must come between the verb and the particle. If we’re talking about the role as a GM, one might ask, “Why did I want to take it on”, but never “*Why did I want to take on it”. The equivalent preposition verb “take me on” follows in the next line and is unquestionably grammatical, if up for interpretation. The question here is if the particle verb “take on me” exists and what it means then. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 22 '17 at 22:37
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - So you're saying that "Why did I want to take the role of GM on" is "more correct"??? – Hot Licks Oct 23 '17 at 1:54
  • @HotLicks No, certainly not. That’s quite ungrammatical. The difference is only apparent when the object is a pronoun (like ‘me’). Compare “She took on a new job” -> “She took it on” (not “*She took on it”) vs “She banked on her brother” -> “She banked on him” (not “*She banked him on”). When the object is a noun phrase (“a new job”, “her brother”), you can’t tell them apart; but you can when when it’s a simple pronoun. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 23 '17 at 7:43
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - Virtually every text on English construction will tell you that a pronoun is a word that substitutes for a noun. Certainly some word orders are more idiomatic than others, but, especially in a poem or lyric, the order is certainly acceptable. And, as I said, there is a (somewhat subtle, in this case) semantic difference between the two orderings. – Hot Licks Oct 23 '17 at 11:49

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