what was someone thinking: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘what was someone thinking’ mean?

The idiom "what was someone thinking" is used to express confusion or disbelief about someone's actions or decisions.

Idiom Explorer

The Hidden Motivations

One of the most commonly heard idioms in the English language is "what was someone thinking." This phrase expresses astonishment or incredulity at someone's actions or decisions. It is used when the speaker finds a particular choice or behavior so perplexing that they cannot comprehend the rationale behind it.

The idiom can be traced back to the early 20th century, although its exact origin is unclear. It likely started as a colloquial expression before gaining widespread popularity. The figurative meaning of the idiom lies in its rhetorical nature. When someone exclaims "what was someone thinking," they are not genuinely seeking an answer. Instead, they are using the phrase to express their disbelief or astonishment at the questionable decision or action.

The idiom can be used in various contexts, such as discussing a foolish business decision, a reckless public statement, or a bizarre fashion choice. Its versatility enables it to convey both humor and exasperation, depending on the tone and intention of the speaker.

This idiom is firmly ingrained in the vernacular of the United States, as well as other English-speaking countries. Its prevalence in everyday conversation and media demonstrates its significance and long-lasting impact. Furthermore, its frequent usage in informal settings highlights its role as a significant linguistic tool for expressing incredulity.

The interpretation and analysis of the origin's meaning and usage.

Let's take a closer look at how the idiom "what was someone thinking" is related to two other idioms: "what was someone smoking," and "you think."

"What was someone smoking" is a humorous phrase that is often used in a similar manner to "what was someone thinking." It is used to express disbelief or incredulity at a particularly strange or illogical decision or action. The use of the word "smoking" in this idiom is a metaphorical way of suggesting that the person in question must have been under the influence of something to make such a perplexing choice.

For example, if someone sees a person wearing mismatched socks with sandals and exclaims, "What was that person smoking?" they are using the idiom to convey their astonishment and amusement at the fashion faux pas. In this context, "what was someone smoking" serves as a lighthearted alternative to "what was someone thinking."

"You think" is another idiom that can be related to "what was someone thinking." It is a dismissive phrase that is used to imply that the person being addressed has made an incorrect or misguided assumption or statement.

For instance, if someone says, "I could easily win a marathon," and another person responds with a skeptical tone, saying, "You think?" they are using the idiom "you think" to express their doubt or disbelief in the speaker's claim. In this context, the idiom serves as a way to question the person's judgment or perception.

The idiom "what was someone thinking" is a widely recognized and frequently used expression of astonishment or incredulity. It is used to question or express disbelief at someone's actions or decisions. It can be related to other idioms such as "what was someone smoking" and "you think," which serve similar purposes in conveying surprise or skepticism. Understanding the nuances and contexts in which these idioms are used can provide insights into human behavior and communication.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "what was someone thinking" can be used in a sentence:

  • "He wore a Hawaiian shirt to a job interview - seriously, what was he thinking?"
  • "She dyed her hair neon green for a wedding - I mean, what was she thinking?"
  • "He quit his stable job without another one lined up - what was he thinking?"

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