English Language Learners Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for speakers of other languages learning English. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I was reading with my daughter a young learners knowledge book when I came across the text below. There was a picture of a mantis in a plant catching a bug.

Look out, mantis about

Many mantids look like leaves. They keep very still, then shoot out their long front legs to grab a passing insect. A mantis has sharp jaws to slice up its prey and scoop out the soft insides.

My question is about the phrase "mantis about".

1- Is there an ellipsis here? and the phrase is in fact "mantis [is] about [to verb]"

2- If there was an ellipsis, what would the reason be? I mean is it because ellipses is a title? Or because the word "mantis" ends with "s" and so it is appropriate to drop "is" for vocal reasons? Or just for rhyming effects?

By the way I did a Google search and found this link by the same title. Is it a coincidence to have the same rhyming phrase or is it something people say, a fixed phrase or something?

share|improve this question
up vote 7 down vote accepted

About is being used with sense 5 as given at m-w.com:

in the vicinity : near

There is an ellipsis, but it is

Look out, [there is a] mantis about.

You could consider this to be a "headline-ese" or "announcement/warning" sort of ellipsis, although it does also improve the meter of the phrase to make it a better rhyming couplet.

The phrase as a whole is a sort of catchy, easy to remember reminder that you should pay attention if you want to spot a mantis, since they are often difficult to see. (Alternatively, it can also be taken as a warning to be careful so that you don't accidentally squish a mantis; or, if mantises were dangerous, it would be a warning to avoid the mantis that is in the area.)

I've never heard the phrase before, but since it is a short phrase with an easy, obvious rhyme, I wouldn't be surprised if many mantis-loving people came up with it independently.

share|improve this answer
"Look out" is a complete sentence, but "mantis about" is just a clause. Grammatically, it cannot stand alone or that's what I think. Regardless of being rhymey here, and grammar wise, can I say: Look out, the bad boy about? Can I use this form: (proper name + about) with no verb? – learner Jul 14 '14 at 21:42
okay, there IS an ellipsis, but not the one you mentioned. I will clarify. – Hellion Jul 14 '14 at 21:45
Crystal clear, thank you. – learner Jul 14 '14 at 21:53

I read the sentence as

Look out, (a) mantis (is) about.

Possibly because I unconsciously eschew "there is" sentences.

share|improve this answer
I thought of many and this was one of them – learner Jul 15 '14 at 14:33

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.