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There's an English paper saying "blink at = show surprise", and "blink at" is a phrasal verb. I've searched a lot of places and didn't see any saying the same thing. Is this true? Does anyone know? Please let me know, thank you.

  • A search will quickly answer your question. Then you can answer your own question and educate us all! – lbf Jun 27 at 15:52
  • Give some sentences. – Mitch Jun 28 at 14:34
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Yes. A phrasal verb is made up of two or more words (ThoughtCo). Phrasal verbs attain a meaning that is distinct from taking the literal meaning of each word and combining them. For example:

I turn on the TV

Turn on is a phrasal verb meaning to activate. It has its own dictionary entry (Merriam-Webster). It doesn't mean literally to turn | on the TV, as if one is turning relative to the TV. In a sense, phrasal verbs often form from transferred or figurative senses of verb and particle or verb and preposition combinations.

In the case of blink at, it can qualify as a phrasal verb. As a phrasal verb, according to Lexico, it means:

(blink at) [usually with negative] React to (something) with surprise or disapproval.

‘he doesn't blink at the unsavoury aspects of his subject’

In this context, blink at has lost the literal sense of blinking in the direction of someone. If I said,

I blinked at you, but you didn't notice.

That's not a phrasal verb, but a verb and a prepositional phrase describing direction. I literally shut and opened by eyes. Where? In your direction. Similarly, "I didn't blink at you" would describe me not shutting my eyes. Where? At you. However, if I said,

I don't even blink at my colleagues' behavior anymore. Nothing could surprise me.

That's a phrasal verb, because blinked at together conveys a meaning idiomatic and distinct from the two words separately. I am not surprised. The state of literally blinking is irrelevant to the meaning, except in a residual or figurative sense that people who blink are surprised; I don't blink; therefore I'm not surprised. The usage is habitual enough that the logic chain doesn't need to be invoked to understand the usage, just like one does not need to logic out other phrasal verbs. Someone reading this as an admission of not shutting their eyes would be in error.

  • Is blink at really non-compositional, though? Blinking is a natural physical response to receiving a shock, just like jumping is. Is “He blinked at the sudden flash of light” literal or non-literal? I’d say the connection is fluid and close enough that there’s no need to consider blink at a phrasal verb. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 27 at 16:14
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    @JanusBahsJacquet, and turning a knob was how many TV sets were activated in olden times. Now we don't have to literally blink to have our expression of surprise described as "blinking at" something, and we don't have to literally turn a knob to "turn on" the TV (or our romantic partner). – The Photon Jun 27 at 17:48
  • Of course it's even less literal since we normally talk about things we "don't blink at" and not so much about things we did blink at. – The Photon Jun 27 at 17:49
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    I think it's just that phrasal verb is at best a heterogenous category. Blink can perfectly well have the same non-literal meaning without at, but generally it doesn't - in most cases where it is used without at, it has a different meaning (they blinked as they came out into the sunlight; Iran didn't blink), and in most cases where it refers to surprise, it is used with at. That is something that a good dictionary ought to point out, so if we're not going to give it its own entry on the basis that it's a phrasal verb, I think we need a new label. – user339660 Jun 28 at 14:17
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    I think there's a lot of sense in what Janus says, and would rather have a more rational set of labels and categories, but you have to work with what you've got. – user339660 Jun 28 at 14:19

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