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I heard of the expression "all retch and no vomit" for the first time, and the references I could find by googling it are not really clear to me. Here is the context where I found it:

What we are doing is we are bringing up children and educating them to live the same sort of lives we are living... in order that, er, that they would-may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to bring up their children to do the same things so it's all retch and no vomit — it never gets there. (Alan Watts)

What would be a definition for the expression?

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I think the writer meant all retch and no vomit. To retch is to make an involuntary attempt to vomit without necessarily succeeding. In other words, as the writer himself says, ‘it never gets there’.

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    I'd also like to think that Alan Watts was clever enough to spot the pun in phrasing it that way so soon after his repetition of "bringing up". – J-P Feb 14 '13 at 15:47
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This quote is from a speech by Allan Watts (1915–1973). The intention of this idiom is to indicate that one puts forth a significant effort (retching) without getting satisfaction of the effort (vomiting).

In relation to the context of the idiom, the "retching" is all the effort people put forth in their lives to provide the money they seek to sustain their life. "Vomiting" (the goal of "retching" literally) is applied metaphorically as living one's desired life state. An example of this is one who desires to be a musician but finds work as a computer programmer to fund his musical activities, yet finds the effort of being a programmer (the "retch") leaves no energy, time or some other capacity to actually become a successful musician (the "vomit").

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"All retch and no vomit" — just going through the motions producing nothing... at least not the intended/expected outcome.

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    This doesn't really add anything to the answers already given. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 23 '12 at 20:11
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The retching is the miserable day-to-day life that we are living and we never get to the "vomit" that is the end of misery.

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It's more than "all bark and no bite"... It's tolerating the miserable in the pursuit of the undesirable.

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  • Do you have sources for this? – American Luke Feb 15 '13 at 3:29

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