Arms bending and stretching!' she rapped out. 'Take your time by me. One, two, three, four! One, two, three, four! Come on, comrades, put a bit of life into it!

(George Orwell 1984)


What does the phrase 'take your time by me' mean?

Link to the book (page #40)

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    Ah, I see you corrected the author's name. It means: use my timing for the exercise. – Lambie Apr 8 '17 at 15:28
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    Orwell was into innuendos (what with double-speak), so who knows what else it might mean. Take your time usually has a different meaning and the combination with "by me" is very good reason to stop and consider. There are no ngrams not even of 1984!? – Hector von Apr 8 '17 at 23:03
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    @Hector von: I've never come across the idea that Orwell was into innuendos. If anything, I'd say he had quite the opposite position, in that it seems to me his Politics and the English Language, for example, primarily argues in favour of "simple, direct, unambiguous" phrasing. Also see this comment from when the current question was included in a completely different one. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 9 '17 at 16:12
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    @FumbleFingers, that shows at least he was concerned with ambiguity. He doesn't have to equip a character with his own opinions, quite the opposite for literary effect. The whole scene is about the invasion of precious private* *time at the primary time of the day (from pri~ and pre~). I'm just saying the meaning isn't narrow. I guess he meant to focus on the exercise including but not limited to the rhythm and the tempo. There are different examples, i.e. "*to take time by the forelock" (to look ahead). – Hector von Apr 10 '17 at 7:33
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    @Hector: To take time by the forelock is hardly "normal English" - it was already recorded as a "set phrase" in 1736 Dictionarium Britannicum Or a More Compleat Universal Etymological English. I suspect Orwell rarely encountered real-world contexts for the cited usage and simply made a (trivial) non-standard choice "by accident", rather than deliberately trying to impart some nuance. His Put some life into it! clearly implies the speaker is at least trying to sound "natural". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 10 '17 at 13:27

Judging by the repeated counting from one to four afterwards, this is an instruction to follow the tempo, or rhythm, set by the speaker.

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  • Yes. In AmE we'd say "take your time from me". – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 9 '17 at 19:30
  • @StoneyB, Agreed, I thought about saying the same for BrE, but I couldn't find any references to back it up. – JavaLatte Apr 9 '17 at 19:37

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