Sometimes you hear people say something like "I call [noun]", mostly with bullshit ("I call bullshit"; and there's also a question on the site with shenanigans). It feels like an opinionated statement about a situation but I don't find it clear whether this is based on to call someone/something out, on to make a call (like when a referee makes a call in sports), on the idea that the person is naming (calling) what they see something (I call that (thing I'm seeing) [noun]) or even on the idea that someone is speaking their mind bluntly about something (maybe subsuming the expression call it as one sees it?).

Of course things like bullshit or white trashery are noncount whereas shenanigans is seemingly almost exclusively used in the plural form except when modifying a plural noun (for instance shenanigan tactics) or when identifying a list of things which might be called shenanigans (for instance shenanigan no 1). In so many words it's not clear whether the plural form used with "I call" is plural because it's mostly used in the plural form or because the construction is idiomatic with the plural form. So with a countable noun I wouldn't know for instance whether I should say "I call (a) double standard/standards" or if using an article with the singular form would make this ambiguous as if the expression was in fact the head of a sentence about some personal definition of a term (I call a double standard something that...).

  • What meaning of (or phrase based on) to call is used in "I call [noun]"? Is it useful to ascertain that or do you see each example as a set construction with a noun that is not really related to the core meaning of the verb: if so what does "I call bullshit" mean?
  • When the noun is countable, which of the singular or the plural form is more idiomatic and if it's used with the singular, is a determiner required/possible; or is it just about usage: if so do you consider "I call double standard", "I call a double standard" and "I call double standards" equally idiomatic?
  • There is no rule. Just pretend the thing called is an interjection in quotation mark. Sometimes you call a singular thing, and sometimes you call a plural thing. Whatever you would say if you were just shouting the thing is what you say you are "calling." In other words, translate "I call X" as "I would be shouting 'X' as a retort if the circumstances permitted."
    – remarkl
    Mar 6, 2019 at 22:44
  • @JugfeyceHinn I don't know how to answer that. All I can say is that I think you are over-analyzing. The construction "I call [noun] on" equals "I attach the label '[noun' to." Anything can be a label; the choice depends on what is idiomatic. I call double standard on that critique, but I call apples and oranges on that comparison. There is no issue of countability outside the label itself.
    – remarkl
    Mar 7, 2019 at 4:55
  • There are similarities between I call bullshit and perfomative speech acts such as I now pronounce you man and wife / I sentence you to 10 years hard labour / I name this ship the Mary Rose. In each case the speaker is in a position of authority. In the I call bullshit on that example the speaker arrogates to him- or herself the authority to dismiss what the interlocutor said as untrue or stupid.
    – Shoe
    Aug 4, 2019 at 9:32
  • It's a garden-variety idiom.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 31, 2020 at 12:41

2 Answers 2


To call in that usage means to announce a judgment on a particular action or circumstance, as one who is formally or informally recognized as having the authority to render such judgments in the domain in question.

I call foul!

The referee called the play dead.

The first example might be heard in an informal "pickup" (i.e. impromptu) game with no referee, where the player is recognized as having the "authority" to say that he has been fouled by another player.

The second example refers to a person, the referee, who is empowered to make such judgments.

The phrase can be used in circumstances not involving a game, treating those circumstances as if game rules applied to them, or at least wishing they did.

Perhaps something shouted by Mikey's younger brother whom Mikey is tormenting:

Mom! Mikey's says he is going to eat the last cookie which I was saving for my lunch tomorrow. I call foul!

In phrases like "I call bullshit" the speaker is being facetious and acting as if he is in the role of referee, and a violation of the Bullshit Rule has occurred.

  • The single nouns in this usage (I call bullshit!) are a kind of shorthand, where the noun-label refers to a particular infraction.
    – TimR
    Mar 6, 2019 at 22:12
  • A similar use of call is "I call time!" as a way to invoke a time out in an impromptu. informal game.
    – Al Maki
    Mar 7, 2019 at 3:48
  • @AlMaki another use of this was, when British pub drinking times were more strictly regulated, the landlord would "call last orders" to indicate that the pub would be closing soon and there was only a short time available to buy more alcohol then "call time" which meant that the customers had to drink up and leave. It's obviously very similar grammatically.
    – BoldBen
    Apr 6, 2019 at 9:59

The construction

I call [noun] on


I attach the label '[noun]' to.

Anything can be a label; the choice depends on what is idiomatic. Thus:

I call double standard on that critique


I call apples and oranges on that comparison.

There is no issue of countability outside the label itself.

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