Page 1 of 2 1 2 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 13
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • Korean
      • Home Country:
      • South Korea
      • Current Location:
      • South Korea

    • Join Date: Sep 2013
    • Posts: 150
    #1

    Smile as sharp as a butter knife

    Hello. Would you please tell me what the underlined sentence means in the context below?
    Does it mean "He is of no use"? (because there's no use having a sharp butter knife, I suppose...)
    Thank you.

    from A Bird on Water Street by Elizabeth O. Dulemba----
    Eli jumped into his his worn-out Jeep and peeled out of the lot, glancing at me with a scowl as he veered into traffic.
    Several cars swerved to avoid being hit.
    "Sorry you had to see that, Mrs. Hicks. Kid was smoking a cigarette right next to an oil drum.
    'Bout blew us up. He's as sharp as a butter knife, that one."
    Mr. Habersham rubbed the dirty rag over his red face, which didn't help matters. "Fill you up?"

  1. Eckaslike's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • England
      • Current Location:
      • Wales

    • Join Date: Jul 2015
    • Posts: 574
    #2

    Re: as sharp as a butter knife

    It is a play on the word "sharp" to say that someone is of no use, in the sense of them being stupid. The first meaning is sharp, as in able to cut something (hence the reference to a butter knife which is blunt and therefore can't cut). The second meaning is "sharp" as in bright, or intelligent, and because the sentence has a negative meaning it is implying that he is not very intelligent. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us..._english/sharp (meanings 1, and 3.2 respectively).

    We are told that he "was smoking a cigarette right next to an oil drum", and Mr Habersham also says "fill you up?" implying that the location is a petrol station. Smoking at a petrol station and by an oil drum is not an intelligent thing to do!

    You will hear, or read, similar phrases such as, "He's not the sharpest knife in the drawer", "He's one cup short of a cupboard" and "He's about as much use as a chocolate teapot!". The first two mean he's not very bright; the last one can also mean that he's of no practical use as well.
    Last edited by Eckaslike; 31-Aug-2015 at 10:25. Reason: Correcting typos.

  2. emsr2d2's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • British English
      • Home Country:
      • UK
      • Current Location:
      • UK

    • Join Date: Jul 2009
    • Posts: 41,912
    #3

    Re: as sharp as a butter knife

    "One sandwich short of a picnic" is one of my favourites.
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • Korean
      • Home Country:
      • South Korea
      • Current Location:
      • South Korea

    • Join Date: Sep 2013
    • Posts: 150
    #4

    Re: as sharp as a butter knife

    Does "He is as bright as a coon oil lantern on a foggy day" have the similar meaning?

    (Note by mod: "Coon" is a recognised shortening of the word "raccoon". Don't mix it up with the identical word which is a racial slur and must not be used as such.)
    Last edited by emsr2d2; 31-Aug-2015 at 13:23.

  3. Eckaslike's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • England
      • Current Location:
      • Wales

    • Join Date: Jul 2015
    • Posts: 574
    #5

    Re: as sharp as a butter knife

    It sounds like it; it is saying that he isn't bright. That idiom has a relatively direct meaning, like the "chocolate teapot" phrase I mentioned. [update: We don't have raccoons in the UK, and I've not heard that phrase before].

    However, with the following phrases you will notice that they refer to the individual in relation to a set of something; a drawer full on knives; a cup less than a whole cupboard would hold; a sandwich less than is needed to make a full picnic. They are usually missing something or they're the odd on out. In essence they mean that the person is not complete, so depending on the context that person is being called either stupid, useless, or both.

    "He's not the sharpest knife in the drawer."
    "He's one cup short of a cupboard."
    "One sandwich short of a picnic."
    Last edited by Eckaslike; 31-Aug-2015 at 12:40. Reason: To add an update.

  4. Eckaslike's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • England
      • Current Location:
      • Wales

    • Join Date: Jul 2015
    • Posts: 574
    #6

    Re: as sharp as a butter knife

    Rover, I think the OP was referring to "raccoon oil".

    I've heard that word used in AmE dialects on television as a non-offensive abbreviation of the animal called a "raccoon". In this context, it means where the animal's oil was used in lamps.

    Perhaps the post could be re-instated using the full word "raccoon"?

    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • American English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Apr 2009
    • Posts: 12,310
    #7

    Re: as sharp as a butter knife

    Yes, "coon" is short for "raccoon." It isn't automatically a racial slur.

  5. emsr2d2's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • British English
      • Home Country:
      • UK
      • Current Location:
      • UK

    • Join Date: Jul 2009
    • Posts: 41,912
    #8

    Re: as sharp as a butter knife

    I've reinstated the post and added a note about its usage.
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

  6. Barb_D's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • American English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Mar 2007
    • Posts: 19,221
    #9

    Re: as sharp as a butter knife

    I've restored the post. Raccoons aren't very fatty so a lamp burning with the oil of one wouldn't be bright.

    That said, despite being fairly fluent in "Southern" I've never heard that.
    Last edited by Barb_D; 31-Aug-2015 at 14:58.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • American English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Apr 2009
    • Posts: 12,310
    #10

    Re: as sharp as a butter knife

    I'd never heard the expression either. "In a coon's age" is the only coon expression I know.

    To discuss someone with, ahem, limitations, I always like the expression "his elevator doesn't go all the way to the top."

Page 1 of 2 1 2 LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. with / by a knife
    By English4everyone in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 3
    Last Post: 23-Dec-2011, 13:24
  2. gets her knife into someone
    By Tinkerbell in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 29-Mar-2010, 12:35
  3. kept that on a knife
    By Bushwhacker in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 02-Nov-2009, 16:53
  4. as sharp as
    By Unregistered in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 13-Nov-2007, 11:28
  5. butter
    By mikephd in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 05-Oct-2006, 16:40

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •