Q: Is the expression “fold favor a cheap suit” or “fold like a cheap suitcase”? Many of the people I’ve asked think it have to be “suit,” but I remember it as “suitcase.”
A: The verb “fold” has been supplied for hundreds of years to mean “give means,” “collapse,” or “fail.” But it’s been offered for just a few dozen years in expressions favor the ones you’re asking about.
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There are many variations on the “fold” layout, including “fold prefer a cheap tent,” “fold choose a cheap lounge chair,” and “fold like a cheap camera” (a referral to the inexpensive folding cameras of days gone by).
These expressions, occasionally referred to as “snowclones” by linguists, follow a verbal pattern (like “X is the new Y” or, in this case, “fold like a cheap X”) into which various words deserve to be inserted by people too lazy to come up through new clichés.
In a 2004 article on the Language Log, the linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum credits the economist Glen Whitman through coining the term for “these non-sexually recreated journalistic textual templates.”
The linguist Arnold Zwicky, in mentioning the “fold favor a cheap X” formula on his blog in 2009, concerns the use of the word “suit” right here, then suggests a feasible explanation for the intake.
“Suit would certainly not have actually been my initially alternative as a filler for X, suits (also cheap ones) not being significant for ease of folding,” he writes. “But probably the cliché ‘anywhere someone like a cheap suit’ advocated suit for X.”
Zwicky mentions several various other choices as a filler for X, including “shirt,” “umbrella,” “cocktail umbrella,” “lawn chair,” “deck chair,” “card table,” “pocket-knife,” “wallet,” “blanket,” and also “accordion.”
The earliest example in writing that we can uncover for any of these “fold prefer a cheap X” expressions is from White Rat: A Life in Baseball, a 1987 memoir by Whitey Herzog:
“The Phils, I think, were covertly rooting for the Cardinals to win the second fifty percent because they knew they might throw Steve Carlton at us in the mini-playoffs and we’d fold choose a cheap tent.”
The earliest written example we’ve found for the “suitcase” variation is from All Out, a 1988 novel by Judith Alguire: “She folded favor a cheap suitcase.”
And the first written example we’ve uncovered for the “suit” formula is from Another 48 Hours, Deborah Chiel’s 1990 novelization of the Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte film: “Wilkid folded prefer a cheap suit to the ringing applause of everyone existing.”
And currently we’ll fold like a cheap laptop and speak to it a day.
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