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I watched Avatar (with subtitles) recently. I've watched it a lot of times, but this time, a sentence caught my eye. When Grace comes to know that Jake hasn't got any lab training, she says,

"You see, they're just pissing on us without even giving us the courtesy of calling it rain"

I somewhat understand this sentence. I suppose it means that they don't even bother caring for us. As a blogger and an English-learner, I always look out for new words, so that I can use it for my next post (which may help my writing). But, this phrase "without even giving the courtesy of calling it rain" is what confuses me.

I mean, I can't understand when I split the sentence. My dictionary synonimizes "courtesy" as polite behavior, remarkable or respectful act. But still, I can't get the phrase "without giving the courtesy".
So, can someone clarify this usage by giving a similar example?

  • When you say "makes me sick" do you mean "makes me confused"? – WendiKidd Nov 10 '13 at 4:02
  • @WendiKidd: Yeah, I meant that. Alright, I'll correct that :) – Waffle's Crazy Peanut Nov 10 '13 at 4:05
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    Yeah, "makes me sick" means "this disgusts me; I think it is wrong and gross". But confused works :) – WendiKidd Nov 10 '13 at 4:09
  • @WendiKidd: Oh, fine. Thanks for the suggestion ;-) – Waffle's Crazy Peanut Nov 10 '13 at 4:12
  • A word's been left out (although one that is acceptable in informal English). It probably should be "giving us the courtesy …" to make it completely grammatical. Does this help? – Peter Shor Nov 10 '13 at 20:16
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In this context, you're almost right in that she's saying they don't care for them anymore. But it seems to me that what she's getting at is, they aren't even pretending to care, hence sending someone who is so obviously unqualified to do a job.

Brace yourself now, because things are about to get literal:

"You see, they're just pissing on us without even giving us the courtesy of calling it rain."

Imagine that you're walking down the street, minding your own business, when all of the sudden you find yourself sprinkled upon by some wet substance that smells like pee. After hustling out of the way (how gross!), you look up and see an old man peeing off of a balcony. He's totally oblivious to the fact that he just peed on you and finishes up, and then after a few moments looks down at you and realizes what he'd just done. He quickly looks around to see if there's something else that he could place the blame on, and eventually settles on blaming the weather. "Well now, it looks like we've got a bit of rain today..." he calls down, and then hurriedly rushes out of sight, realizing that he'd just done something totally wrong.

Although lying about it wasn't courteous at all (calling it so would be a grand example of sarcasm), let us contrast it with the following situation:

The next day, everything above happens again down a different street and with a different old man. But this time, after he finishes up, he looks down at you. You glare at him, expecting maybe an explanation or an apology. Instead, he locks eyes with you, grunts, and shakes a little bit more out before sitting down and reading his newspaper. You see, he's just pissing on you without even giving you the courtesy of calling it rain. In this context, hopefully the meaning is more clear.

A more common use of "give/show sb. the courtesy" would be:

You could have shown us the courtesy of letting us try to fix it before giving us a bad review on Yelp.

This could be a business's reply to a customer's negative review on yelp, if the business owner felt that it was an unfair review. A more graphic (and somewhat common usage) is as follows (apologies for vulgarity if it offends):

If you're going to fuck me, you could at least show me the courtesy of buying me dinner first.

(This is a play on words -- "to fuck" can mean both "to have sex with" and "to wrong someone/to mistreat someone.") This is something that a person who feels betrayed might say to their betrayer. E.G. disgruntled employee to boss, spouse A to spouse B upon being served with divorce papers without warning, etc... Again, that last one is pretty vulgar so I wouldn't use it in day-to-day speech, but it serves the purpose of showing how this phrase is used.

  • Well, that's one terrible, err... terrific example. Thanks ;-) – Waffle's Crazy Peanut Nov 11 '13 at 17:37
  • +1 Outstanding answer, and a great use of language we don't often see here! :) – Jolenealaska Mar 29 '14 at 23:10

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