Posted by R. Berg on April 11, 2001
In Reply to: Wouldn't put it past them posted by Barney on April 11, 2001
: : : : : : "I wouldn't put it past them"
: : : : : : correct interpretation?
: : : : : This means, in my humble opinion, that the 'them' in question is/are capable of committing the act which has happened, e.g., when you car has been vandalised you may refer to the crowd of teenagers who regularly roam the neighbourhood late into the evening and mutter, 'I wouldn't put it past them'.
: : : : That's how we in the U.S. use the phrase too. It always refers to wrongdoing. The underlying notion, as I understand it, is a spatial metaphor. Good behavior is at the hub of a wheel or the zero point of a graph. Nasty deeds like vandalism are farther out, not at the center. When we say we wouldn't put some act past a person, we mean we have judged the person to be sufficiently delinquent (antisocial, irresponsible, dishonest, or whatever applies) that the act doesn't fall beyond his or her capacity on that continuum.
: : : If you say so but it's difficult to visualise without the graphics.
: : I'll draw it, then. The continuum starts at the left, so in each case, putting X past Y means putting X to the right of Y.
: : I wouldn't put vandalism past those kids:
: : GOOD BEHAVIOR --->--->VANDALISM--->--->KIDS
: : I would put vandalism past those kids:
: : GOOD BEHAVIOR--->--->KIDS--->--->VANDALISM
: : I wouldn't put vandalism past those kids, but I believe murder is beyond them:
: : GOOD BEHAVIOR--->--->VANDALISM--->--->KIDS--->--->MURDER
: Sort of 'beyond the pale' type of explanation. I'm not sure it holds water.
Yes, the same idea as "beyond the pale" or (of some offense) "That's going too far!" I don't expect everyone to respond with the same mental image to a sample of language. For me, though, and, I would guess, for some others, "wouldn't put it past them" calls up the idea of points on a line.
See also: the meaning and origin of 'Beyond the pale'.