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You're one to talk.

This expression usually means that the speaker thinks the listener shouldn't be talking in the given situation. So it's sarcasm.

Sometimes, you can make it more sarcastic by adding 'a fine':

You're a fine one to talk.

Could either be used literally to mean that the speaker thinks the listener should be talking in the given situation?

If not, how can you make it express the literal meaning? Perhaps by adding 'the'?

You're the one to talk.

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  • 1
    @Lambie If the sarcasm comes from it being an idiom, is there anything wrong with wrecking the idiom, if the purpose is to remove the sarcasm?
    – listeneva
    Sep 3, 2019 at 7:00
  • "You're a fine one to talk" usually means that the person addressed is guilty of the same fault that they have been criticising in others. To remove the sarcasm, you would have to say something like "You know all about that - tell us what you think". Sep 3, 2019 at 8:37
  • If several people were discussing who should act as their spokesperson in some formal proceeding, it would be quite natural (and unsarcastic) for one of them to say to the most confident speaker, "You should be the one to talk." Or if all of them were eager to to avoid the responsibility of being the spokesperson, so they drew straws to decide who the unlucky speaker would be, it might make sense for someone to say to the person who drew the short straw, "You're the one to talk." But such situations seem out of the ordinary.
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 4, 2019 at 7:25

4 Answers 4

1

Could either be used literally to mean that the speaker thinks the listener should be talking in the given situation?

No. Fluent speakers will always take these expressions to be meant sarcastically, and because that's the case, they would avoid using such an expression when they want to be taken literally. Even in an unlikely situation such as Sven Yargs describes in a comment (where the person has been chosen to talk), a fluent speaker would avoid using the construction "you're [a fine] one to talk" because of the likely interpretation of sarcasm; at the very least, it would instead be phrased "you're the one to talk".

If not, how can you make it express the literal meaning? Perhaps by adding 'the'?

Using the definite article does makes a semantic difference here. Instead of the person belonging to that undefined conceptual group of people who should not be talking (because it would be hypocritical to do so), the definite article defines the person as specifically one to talk – i.e. it flags that a literal interpretation may be required. Nonetheless, we English speakers seem to revel in sarcasm and we're therefore constantly on the lookout for it, so a fluent speaker may well consider that the other person has simply mangled the idiom and actually is being sarcastic. The definite article, on its own, may not be enough.

In addition to using the definite article, the key to expressing this so that the literal meaning is conveyed without any doubt is to add qualifiers that unequivocally eliminate sarcasm as the intention. These would typically emphasise the context, or highlight the appropriateness or truth of the statement – and it would be common to use both, for the avoidance of doubt! For example:

  • In this situation, you're genuinely the one to talk.
  • You're absolutely the right one to talk.
  • I honestly think you're the one to talk.

We also use vocal inflection to convey meaning. In the sarcastic expression we would typically put the stress on you (or you're), in effect emphasising the target of our sarcasm; when conveying the literal meaning we would shift that stress to the verb: "you are the one to talk".

2
  • You seem to be saying that adding 'the' is a necessary but not sufficient condition for preventing the sarcasm in the idiom. Or, is it possible to not use 'the' in your own suggestions as follows? In this situation, you're genuinely one to talk.; You're absolutely right one to talk.; I honestly think you're one to talk.
    – JK2
    Sep 10, 2019 at 5:26
  • @JK2 There are ways to express what the OP wants without using “the one”, but the risk is that dropping the article makes the expression non-idiomatic (ie a fluent speaker would find it awkward or unusual). Your 3 sentences all sound a bit odd, and #2 is simply wrong (it must be “the right one”). Also, dropping the article in #1 & #3 changes the meaning from preferred/ideal/only person to being merely one amongst a number. Sep 11, 2019 at 0:10
0

You’re a fine one to talk!’

Is an idiom similar to ‘the pot calling the kettle black’ - where the person decrying a particular way of being, is guilty of that very same thing, themselves.

Example:

Julie ‘it’s wrong to drink and drive’. David ‘you’re a fine one to talk! Who was it who wanted to drive home last night after 3 glasses of wine?’ (Note - it was obviously - Julie).

Pauline ‘I absolutely hate it when fat people wear tight clothes!’ James ‘you’re a fine one to talk! Your tummy wasn’t exactly svelte in those pink satin shorts you were wearing yesterday, now was it?’

This idiom only works in the form ‘you’re a fine one to talk’ in my view (UK English).

The other two versions, are in my view, a mixup. The first ‘you’re one to talk’ doesn’t really work as a varation of the idiom, and is not idiomatic.

The last one ‘you’re the one to talk’ again does not relate to this idiom and doesn’t have a particular meaning as an idiom.

The idiom ‘you’re a fine one to talk!’ is sarcastic - if you use it, you will be using sarcasm. Conversely - if you remove the sarcasm, you won’t be using this idiom.

Another way of explaining the meaning is ‘come on! Don’t be such a hypocrite!’

If you wanted to express this without sarcasm you could use English understatement and say something like: ‘Don’t you think you may sometimes be a tiny bit guilty of that yourself? I know I am!’

Which would be quite tactful, really.

-1

It's possible to interpret the idiom to mean something different than what it normally means—but it wouldn't be a safe assumption it would be taken that way, not even if you add the definite article.

The problem with idioms (depending on how you look at it) is that their wording triggers specific associations; even if you change the wording a little bit, it's still easy to associate them with their common wording. While adding the makes this idiom sound strange, it nonetheless still sounds like just a strange version of the idiom rather than something else (or literal).


To get away from the idiom completely and give it the literal meaning instead, do two things:

  1. Remove one or the one.
  2. Make use of should or some other active verb.

In other words, rephrase it similarly to the following:

You should do the talking instead.
It's your turn to talk.
I think you should talk now.

It's now no longer a description of the person, but a course of action that's being stressed.


In a slightly different context, where it's not the listener being told to take a turn talking, but simply somebody being told to talk in general, the following could also be said:

You talk to them.
I'll let you do the talking.

-5

You're a fine one to talk. This expression usually means that the speaker thinks the listener shouldn't be talking in the given situation. So it's sarcasm.


This expression is actually a reply to someone who is critical of someone else therefore above assumption is incorrect.

They do not think the speaker should not speak, they think they should not bad mouth someone else because those same exact same things could just as easily be said about the critic. So it is a sarcastic reply to a criticism in a very particular circumstance.

Note the word Fine means bad in this situation.

You're a very unpleasant person to talk like this

Definition of fine one to talk MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY —used to say that a person should not say bad things about someone else because those same things could be said about him or her

you're a fine one to talk Free Dictionary You are guilty of the same thing you have just criticised.


The following are miss quotes of the idiom therefore your assumption "that you can make it more sarcastic by adding 'a fine'" is also incorrect.

You're one to talk.

You're the one to talk.

These two phrases have different meanings from the idiom you're a fine one to talk . However because of the popularity of the idiom they are sometimes used in it's stead (as mentioned above) because of a misquote. Personally I agree with Lambie adding "the" wrecks the idiom and also missing out "fine" does as well. As it removes the remark "bad" from the phrase, thus making the reply something much different from intended.

You're a very unpleasant person to talk like this becomes You're (the) one (who's) talking.


fine adjective (BAD) informal bad or not convenient: Cambridge English Dictionary

That's a fine (= very unpleasant) thing to say about your father after all he's done for you!

He picked a fine time to leave us.

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  • No matter how long your writing is, I'm afraid it's just a comment, never an answer to my question when all you do is say that my assumption for the question is incorrect. My question was a. "Could either be used literally to mean that the speaker thinks the listener should be talking in the given situation?" b. "If not, how can you make it express the literal meaning?" Where is your answer to either of my questions?
    – listeneva
    Sep 3, 2019 at 15:05
  • FIRST QUESTION answered , the speaker thinks the listener should be talking in the given situation? This expression is actually a reply to someone who is critical of someone else OK your not happy with the answered but it has been answered....................SECOND QUESTION " the misquotes only have the literal meaning, as I have written ..............."You're (the) one (who's) talking"......... they do not mean the same as the idiom. Both Lambie and I have told you but you will not except this.
    – Brad
    Sep 3, 2019 at 15:31

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