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Wouldn't put it past them

Posted by R. Berg on April 11, 2001

In Reply to: Phrase posted by Barney on April 10, 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.