The Free Dictionary  
mailing list For webmasters
Welcome Guest Forum Search | Active Topics | Members

Can't learn an old dog new tricks Options
Helenej
Posted: Saturday, May 13, 2017 12:54:00 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 9/24/2013
Posts: 1,562
Neurons: 8,205
Location: Kiev, Kyiv City, Ukraine
Mark Twain. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

His aunt Polly stood surprised a moment, and then broke into a gentle laugh.

"Hang the boy, can't I never learn anything? Ain't he played me tricks enough like that for me to be looking out for him by this time? But old fools is the biggest fools there is. Can't learn an old dog new tricks, as the saying is.


I guess that "Can't learn an old dog new tricks" is short of "You can't learn an old dog new tricks". Why wasn't it "Can't teach an old dog new tricks"?

mactoria
Posted: Saturday, May 13, 2017 5:02:03 AM
Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 8/13/2014
Posts: 406
Neurons: 693,123
Location: Stockton, California, United States
Helenej wrote:
Mark Twain. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

His aunt Polly stood surprised a moment, and then broke into a gentle laugh.

"Hang the boy, can't I never learn anything? Ain't he played me tricks enough like that for me to be looking out for him by this time? But old fools is the biggest fools there is. Can't learn an old dog new tricks, as the saying is.


I guess that "Can't learn an old dog new tricks" is short of "You can't learn an old dog new tricks". Why wasn't it "Can't teach an old dog new tricks"?



Helenej: "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," written in the late 1800s by Twain, takes place along the Mississippi River, a part of the US that at that time had a large number of poorly educated persons who didn't know proper English grammar/language/vocabulary. So it was then -- and still is for a small number of undereducated Southerners in that general area --- typical for them to use "learn" instead of "teach." The passage you quoted is a good example of the incorrect substitution of "learn" for "teach" that was common back then and for many decades for undereducated (or uneducated) Southerners in the US. According to a reference (Stack Exchange), the Oxford English Dictionary says that "learn" to mean "teach" dates back to the 13th century in English/British literature, sometimes used ironically/sarcastically, and that at one time the Latin roots for "learn' actually did mean to 'impart or teach," though "learn" most definitely doesn't carry that meaning in modern English in the US, UK, or other English-speaking countries.
Helenej
Posted: Saturday, May 13, 2017 1:43:38 PM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 9/24/2013
Posts: 1,562
Neurons: 8,205
Location: Kiev, Kyiv City, Ukraine
Thank you, mactoria.
NKM
Posted: Saturday, May 13, 2017 11:10:09 PM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 2/14/2015
Posts: 3,428
Neurons: 134,507
Location: Corinth, New York, United States
As Mactoria says, "learn" no longer means "teach" in (correct) modern English.

But we still use a two-syllable adjective "learnèd " to mean "educated".

thar
Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2017 6:36:30 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 7/8/2010
Posts: 15,009
Neurons: 59,559
It is common in some dialects in Britain.

Two possible factors

there were two verbs in Old English
leornian - to acquire knowledge, learn
> Modern German lernen, - to study; kennenlernen - to get to know.

And, closely related:

læran - to teach.
>Modern German der Lehrer, lehren - to teach
This, as far as I can think, has not survived into modern English. I suspect it merged back into 'learn'.



For a long time the use of 'to learn somebody' was standard, and it is still common even though it is now considered 'wrong'.

Quote:
Transitive use (He learned me (how) to read), now considered vulgar (except in reflexive expressions, I learn English), was acceptable from c. 1200 until early 19c. It is preserved in past participle adjective learned "having knowledge gained by study."




Aussies get it too.
I assume it is a pun.
'That'll learn you' is slang 'that'll teach you' - ie 'serves you right!' And educational!

Users browsing this topic
Guest


Forum Jump
You cannot post new topics in this forum.
You cannot reply to topics in this forum.
You cannot delete your posts in this forum.
You cannot edit your posts in this forum.
You cannot create polls in this forum.
You cannot vote in polls in this forum.

Main Forum RSS : RSS
Forum Terms and Guidelines. Copyright © 2008-2017 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.