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Calvin : “Do you believe our destinies are controlled by the stars?”
Hobbes : “No, I think we can do whatever we want with our lives.”
Calvin : "Not to hear mom and dad tell it."

from Calvin and Hobbes(March 21, 2007)

I don't understand what Calvin says: "Not to hear~" Especially the infinitive 'Not to' What frustrates me is the fact that there is no subject and verb in Calvin's words.

By any chance, does it mean that he does not want mom and dad say to him what Hobbes told him? Please somebody tell me. I'm a Korean studying English.

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    In this context, Calvin's sentence means "That's not what Mom and Dad say." There's an idiomatic structure "To hear [somebody] tell it" which is often used to introduce an opinion. For example, "To hear Mickey Mouse tell it, Disneyland is the happiest place on earth" = "According to Mickey Mouse, Disneyland..." So Calvin's sentence can be translated as "not according to Mom and Dad." This includes some ellipsis (leaving out assumed words); you could parse it in full as "what you just said is not true, according to Mom and Dad." (The joke is that Mom and Dad control Calvin's life.)
    – 1006a
    Mar 6, 2017 at 23:43

3 Answers 3

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Mom and Dad do not say that, they say something contrary to Hobbes' statement.

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Hobbes was asserting that "we can do whatever we want with our lives."

When Calvin says, "Not to hear mom and dad tell it," he is saying that mom and dad are telling him the contrary.

For example, if Calvin wanted to be an astronaut, Hobbes may say Calvin could do whatever he wanted. But Calvin's parents have told him something like "Calvin, you are too much of a dreamer to pursue this difficult career."

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  • OH!!! I learned a lot. Thank you very much. You are so kind. Thank you !!!!!!!!!!!
    – Jaewook
    Mar 6, 2017 at 23:44
  • But now, come to think of it, then why does Calvin not say like this? "My parents did not tell me that." Is there any difference in meaning or nuance ?
    – Jaewook
    Mar 6, 2017 at 23:52
  • "Not to hear Mom and Dad tell it" implies that "Mom and Dad have told me the opposite." So the difference in nuance is not his parents' silence, but rather their explicit contradiction.
    – Rocky
    Mar 7, 2017 at 0:22
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Perhaps the simplest transformation of Calvin’s statement is

Not if you hear mom and dad tell it.

or

Not when you hear mom and dad tell it.

In other words, I agree with the answers that interpret the statement as meaning “mom and dad have said otherwise.”

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  • Oh~ Now I come to fully understand the reason why "to" followed "Not". Thank you very much.
    – Jaewook
    Mar 7, 2017 at 7:38

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