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In my English book, I've got an article about traveling, and one sentence in particular caught my eye:

I've always put these incidents down to experience, and dined off some of them for years.

What does dined off mean in this context (because I've only found meanings related to eating, and that doesn't quite suit this sentence)?

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3 Answers 3

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It's a slightly quirky idiomatic usage that even many native speakers might not be familiar with.

What the writer means is that these "incidents" form the basis of interesting tales that can be recounted repeatedly in after-dinner conversations by a skilled raconteur (by implication, such as himself).

Because people like to be entertained in this way after a (formal) dinner, the host / organisers of the event would be likely to invite the writer. And there's usually the implication that any such "after-dinner speaker" would be likely to actually be paid to turn up (in addition to getting a free luxury meal, whereas the other diners are probably paying for the privilege of being there).

Sometimes there's no suggestion of payment / free food. I dined out on that story for years might simply mean When I went out for a meal with friends, I often used to tell that amusing anecdote, even if the speaker always scrupulously paid at least his fair share of the bill. He might just mean that his ability to entertain fellow-diners ensured such evenings were a success, and/or that people invited him out to dinner for this very reason.


Note that this idiomatic usage often includes other prepositions...

He dined off that for years
He dined out off that for years
He dined out off of that for years
He dined out on that for years
He dined out with that for years

All those (and probably more) seem fine to me, but others may feel different.

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    I don't think it's really implied that he was paid directly; it seems more like people would take him out to dinner to hear his story.
    – Casey
    Sep 6, 2017 at 16:04
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    @Darren Ringer: The idiomatic usage can occur in various forms. I'll edit to reflect that. Sep 6, 2017 at 17:13
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    I didn't want to offend you in any way, it just looks strange to me, that's all :) But with you examples and explanation it makes sense. And you are right, I'm not a native so my opinion doesn't really matter :)
    – Lesmian
    Sep 6, 2017 at 20:56
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    @Lambie: Like I said, others may feel different. I won't bother editing links in to my existing answer text, but I'd be prepared to bet I could successfully google all the variants I listed above - and probably more, if I could think of some credible alternative prepositions or combinations to search for in this context. Jan 25 at 16:36
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    I don't understand the point of your comments. Unquestionably, all the forms I listed do occur, my answer already acknowledges that not everyone will be familiatr with all variants, and there's already a comment from someone else saying that at least some permutations look "strange". It doesn't really add anything for you to say you aren't familiar with some of them, and it's totally irrelevant to start questioning the "syntactic validity" of any of the forms. If they're used, they're used. And they are. Jan 25 at 16:50
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The more usual version in English is "dine out on". That is, the experience, or whatever, is so fascinating that people will invite you to dinner just to hear about it.

(They don't necessarily invite you to a restaurant. You could equally well be invited to someone's house, but from your own point of view you are not at home and you are therefore dining out.)

"Dine off" means essentially the same but is less English. It may be American.

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  • In the US, I've always heard "dine out on" rather than "dine off."
    – ArrowCase
    Sep 6, 2017 at 16:44
  • This version even has a reference: idioms.thefreedictionary.com/dine+out+on+(something)
    – David K
    Sep 6, 2017 at 18:17
  • I have never seen either but accept both, as it fits with the "genius" of the language. Normally, dine out is not followed by on. It's just to dine out as opposed to having dinner (dining) at home.
    – Lambie
    Sep 7, 2017 at 18:51
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PART ONE: In English, writers seek to be creative and avoid clichés. So here the writer used the **well-known phrasal verb to live off and changed it **to dine off of****.

to live off of something [food, people, land] means to consume or use that thing in order to live or to survive.

  • He lives off cans of beans. I don't know how he does it. [only eats beans for food to survive]
  • They have lived off the land for three generations. [used the land as a means of existence]
  • She lives off her mother because she cannot get any work. [uses her mother's monetary help to live].

PART TWO: The writer is using the idea of incidents as a means of survival. He lives [dines] off these incidents either means he is a paid journalist and these incidents provide him a subject to write about or it means that the writer "survives" in his imagination by "consuming" these incidents. As mentioned by FumbleFingers, he could be telling stories. In this day and age, media is considered to be consumption. Most people hear about incidents through the media. And dining is a kind of eating. But NOT for survival. If you are dining, you are doing more than surviving. You are probably pretty well off.

PART THREE: He has transformed the idiom to live off [something] into: to dine off something. The use of the verb dine is either sarcastic or funny. Dining is connoted in English as a formal activity. "Where did you dine last night?" it is slightly old-fashioned and would be considered somewhat snobby. Dining is also the place for conversation.

Conclusion: So these incidents provide content for him. If you dine on something, you eat it. If you dine off of something, you are using the thing to your advantage in some way that goes beyond survival and involves a formal activity (dining) which you enjoy.

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    I think you're stretching the idiomatic usage too far here. A journalist / columnist wouldn't be likely to say he dined off the stories he wrote unless he used them as material in after-dinner conversations (or if he "moonlighted" in the more formal role of professional after-dinner speaker). That's to say to dine off [some anecdote] isn't really just a whimsical alternative to to live off [some source of revenue / sustenance]. It's more about keeping people entertained (and hence being a welcome guest), rather than financial or nutritional reward. Sep 5, 2017 at 16:59
  • @Lambie I really appreciate your answer, however FumbleFingers's answer make more sense to me :)
    – Lesmian
    Sep 5, 2017 at 17:44
  • +1 for this interpretation. Say you have a collection of tales, or of old sayings, or tips for others. When you use these in practice, this can be thought of as "feeding off of them", as in "using them as input for a process" (in this case, storytelling or giving advice), and once you invoke the idea of "feeding", you have all the other idioms and metaphors that can and do come into play, such as "dine off of them/these"
    – SlimsGhost
    Sep 5, 2017 at 18:19
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    @Lambie: That's not true. In (most varieties of) educated British English, "off of" is considered wrong, or at least nonstandard, and if you use it you may be considered to have poor English - not great for readers of ELL! (Note the original source of the quote was a British newspaper article). And no, it's more than FumbleFingers' interpretation: it's (a variation on) a very well known idiom.
    – psmears
    Sep 7, 2017 at 19:44
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    That blog may have a ".co.uk" URL, but it is most definitely written by a speaker of US English. Note how they refer to a "skillet" (BrE: "frying pan" - nobody says "skillet" in the UK); how they spell color (BrE "colour"); they refer to rubbing alcohol (BrE "surgical spirit")--and prices in dollars from a US chain (Harbor Freight) which doesn't exist in the UK.
    – psmears
    Sep 8, 2017 at 6:56

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