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What does the phrase "stick a pencil in your ear" mean?
December 7, 2012 1:59 PM   Subscribe

A client has recently started using the phrase "stick a pencil in your ear" in reference to requests/work items he's asking me to do. What does this mean?

For example
Can you do xyz?

I suspect you may be wondering whether my sole goal in life is to frequently push a pencil into your ear. Please be assured it is not.
It seems like it means "frustrate" or something like that, but I've never heard it before? Related to mosquitoes buzzing in your ear at all?
posted by ish__ to Human Relations (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Maybe this person is combining "Stick a bug in your ear" and "Pencil me in" but doesn't realize that what they're saying is a little odd.
posted by jaimystery at 2:03 PM on December 7, 2012


I would use something like that to indicate that what I'm asking is tedious, annoying and seems trivial.

Bloody odd phrasing though.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:08 PM on December 7, 2012


Maybe he's apologizing for annoying you with silly requests?
posted by bink at 2:09 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder if it's a sort of euphemistic version of "be a pain in the ass", you know, without saying "ass".
posted by ManInSuit at 2:12 PM on December 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Perhaps you might ask him as a collegial aside?
posted by Burhanistan at 2:17 PM on December 7, 2012


I think some people call having a pencil behind your ear "sticking a pencil in your ear". Sorry, I'm not clear what he means either. Constantly asking you to be guestimating new work?
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:17 PM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Could it be some sort of reference to one of those electric pencil sharpeners? As in, he's using you for some trivial task.
posted by pipeski at 2:18 PM on December 7, 2012


Follow-up: assuming it is him pseudo-apologizing for the requests, is it rude of me to ask him what it means? That is, if I ask him to explain it - is it likely that he'll interpret that as me calling him out and demanding he come out and admit....something? If he knows he's being a pain in the ass, I don't especially want to embarrass him by needling him into admitting it?

Or am I beanplating it now?
posted by ish__ at 2:18 PM on December 7, 2012


There's nothing wrong with saying "that's a new phrase to me, what's the origin?" You might get a good story out of it and a little extra connection to a client.
posted by headnsouth at 2:20 PM on December 7, 2012


I'd just ask him. " What does 'pencil in my ear' mean? I've never heard that expression before."

And then tell us what he said because I have no idea.
posted by cmoj at 2:21 PM on December 7, 2012 [15 favorites]


Funny, I assumed that it meant something horribly aggravating, though I've really only heard it as "omg that dude makes me want to jam a pencil in my ear". Which, now that I say it, doesn't make that much sense.
posted by brilliantine at 2:23 PM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe he's a Butthole Surfers fan?
posted by Rash at 2:25 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, sounds like "to annoy with repeated requests." In the sense that "I recognize that this is another annoying request and I apologize."

He may have picked it up from somewhere, or it could be he just made it up. Some people like inventing their own wacky sayings. Judging from the tone of his email I think it'd be fine to ask.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:27 PM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Imagine someone pushing a pencil into your ear repeatedly - imagine how annoying and painful it would be.

He just means: he's sorry if his requests are dumb/painful and hopes you're not too pissed because that's not his intention.
posted by heyjude at 2:33 PM on December 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


Agreeing with heyjude—he's apologizing for being a PITA. Not sure what the origin of the phrase is, but I take the general meaning to be "to frustrate and annoy you repeatedly."
posted by rebekah at 3:30 PM on December 7, 2012


I haven't heard it before, but he seems to mean: "I assure you, I'm not trying to annoy you for no reason." He doesn't want you to think he's giving you busywork. You could ask him, since he probably knows what he means at least as well as we do.
posted by John Cohen at 3:36 PM on December 7, 2012


He's trying to say sorry for what he feels is him being being an constant, annoying presence (also known as a pest!). He feels like he is constantly prodding you / flicking your plait / trying to stick a pencil in your ear / school room antics with his request and had just phrased it oddly.

Well, that's my interpretation!
posted by latch24 at 4:07 PM on December 7, 2012


> Funny, I assumed that it meant something horribly aggravating, though I've really only heard it as "omg that dude makes me want to jam a pencil in my ear".

That's the only way I've heard this phrase as well and "made me want to jam a pencil in my ear" is like wanting to stab yourself in the brain...it's in the same vein as "it made me want to poke my own eyes out."

I suspect this is a sort of fanciful adaptation of that phrase, either something he made up, or something they say in his family, etc.
posted by desuetude at 4:07 PM on December 7, 2012


my interpretation is he's saying "I don't mean to tell you how to do your job" - as in, he's getting too detailed and putting a pencil in your ear and writing on your brain.
posted by mannequito at 4:33 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nah, I see this as simply meaning "cause pain and aggravation". Is it possible that you have a way of reacting to his requests that could be making him feel that he is doing that?

I would just politely laugh it off at this point, something like "as long as it's not a real pencil my in real ear, we're good!", just to counter the somewhat mordant phrasing and break the mood.
posted by dhartung at 4:47 PM on December 7, 2012


I agree with desuetude and heyjude: He's apologizing for being a pain. He's just not using a proverbial tool in a proverbial way.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:49 PM on December 7, 2012


To me it's pretty obvious that "stick a pencil in your ear" means to start working intensively on something.
Imagine an old school bookkeeper with a green eyeshade and a spare pencil resting behind his ear. He is asking you to do some work for him and apologizing for giving you so much work.
posted by banishedimmortal at 8:27 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also understand it as "Give you something challenging/difficult/a lot of work to do." and that "pencil in the ear" is putting a pencil behind your ear to keep it handy.

My logic for this is that putting a pencil behind someone's ear is movie/TV shorthand for someone working really hard on something thinky.
posted by Ookseer at 8:35 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah but...read the OP, he's not said put a pencil in, he's said push a pencil into. To me that clearly implies insertion, not just resting it behind the ear. Another vote for annoying, to the point of dangerous/liable to cause damage.
posted by attercoppe at 11:55 PM on December 7, 2012


I'm sure I've heard that phrase used here in the UK, though googling doesn't seem to bear that out.

I would take it to mean doing something (ostensibly) pointless and annoying.

Here it certainly would not mean having a pencil behind your ear.
posted by kadia_a at 2:08 AM on December 8, 2012


I've heard it in the Uk. The same person would also frequently say "I wouldn't poke you in the eye with a sharp stick, but would you mind doing x, y z?"

I took the opportunity to embrace the loose language and started making up my own turns of phrase to reply with. When he'd ask for something I couldn't do I'd tell him that I'd like to, but that some critical resource was "in a bottle on the roof" so we'll have to pass on it. He responded much better to this nonsense than any well reasoned argument about project management.
posted by samworm at 5:20 AM on December 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sounds to me like he's running around with a chicken and his head cut off.
posted by flabdablet at 7:55 AM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


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