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Here it it is in context: "Society assigns more social and economic rewards to those jobs that are more important to it. This gaurantees that difficult jobs will be filled, THE THINKING GOES, and will draw peopele away from easier and less imortant jobs." I cannot figure out what that phrase is for there and its meaning.

  • Syntactically, your capitalised text is "shorthand" for so the thinking goes (i.e. - that's the way acknowledged "experts" in this area think about such things, according to conventional wisdom). – FumbleFingers Nov 15 '17 at 19:19
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I found this from a website, which I think is a good answer for this question.

It is an odd construction, and seems a little clumsy to me. People don't usually talk about "a thinking" in English, but somehow it has made it into a couple of expressions, "the thinking goes" and "that is his thinking on the matter".

People use "the thinking goes" the same way they would use "the theory goes" or "the story goes", when describing the elements in a train of thought (instead of describing the details of a theory, or the events in a story).

"Goes" means "proceeds onwards", as if to say, "here are the different parts, and they occur in this order". "That's how the story goes" means "that's what happens in the story" (literally: "that's how the events in the story proceed").

"That's how the thinking goes" means "that's how this idea (or thought, or theory) is constructed".

The clause "The thinking goes," is like a label saying that the rest of the sentence is (still) part of a particular train of thought. This almost always indicates that a writer is trying to describe someone else's opinion or theory, not the writer's own. (It would be strange to distance oneself from one's own opinion in this way. And when talking about one's own thoughts, one should use "my thinking goes" instead). Today, economic theory suggests that good resource management requires ownership, either private or public. If not, the thinking goes, then self-interest will lead to overuse and destruction of shared resources. In the first sentence, the writer starts to discuss an idea from economic theory. In the second sentence, the writer adds more details about the idea. In total, the writer quotes economic theory as saying: Good resource management requires ownership, either private or public. If not, then self-interest will lead to overuse and destruction of shared resources.

This writer has used "the thinking goes" to let the reader know that the second sentence is not his own opinion, but just a continuation of the economic theory (the "thinking") mentioned in the first sentence. He or she could have written "the theory goes" or "theory goes" or even "the theory says" or "according to theory" instead, but perhaps didn't want to overuse the word "theory". :-)

It's almost as if he or she had written: If not, (here's some more of that economic theory I mentioned), then self-interest will lead to overuse and destruction of shared resources.

When you take out "the thinking goes", sentence number 2 is a tiny bit ambiguous. While it seems likely the writer is still quoting ideas from economic theory, it's quite possible that he is now expressing his own opinion about the dire consequences of self-interest.

Remove people, the thinking goes, and you remove costs.

Here, "the thinking goes" sounds as if it refers to some opinion which the writer has heard someone else express, somewhere; it might refer to "what some people think", or perhaps to "what most corporate managers think". it's equivalent to

Here's an idea (which I have heard someone else express): Remove people, and you remove costs.

Remove people, it is thought, and you remove costs.

It doesn't mean "logically, then..." although it might look like it, being so often thrown in the middle of all sorts of logically connected thoughts.

When there's no context (that is to say, when no idea or "thinking" (ugh) is already being discussed), "The thinking goes," at the start of a sentence could be substituted with any of these: (from most to least neutral in tone) "According to theory," ... fairly neutral, doesn't say the idea is popular "It is thought that " "It is commonly thought that " "The conventional wisdom is that " ... presents the idea as very popular!

In mid-sentence, after a comma, you could substitute "it is thought," "it is commonly thought," "according to conventional wisdom,"

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I suppose they refer to another saying, "as the saying goes" which is sort of defined in Wiktionary as ...

Used before or after saying an apt proverb, adage, cliché etc.

So one might say, for example ..

I chose X over Y, because, as the saying goes, better one bird in hand than ten in the wood.

I would parse it like this:

1) People often say XYZ.

2) Saying XYZ is a nice way to summarize what I'm talking about.

So my understanding of your sentences is something like this:

1) It is a common way of thinking that if society assigns more social and economic rewards to the more important jobs, it will draw people away from easier and less important jobs. ("The thinking goes" part.)

2) I'm gonna have something to say about this common way of thinking.

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The thinking goes X is a well-known phrase that means "Given something stated previously, we are supposed to draw the conclusion X." X would be something inferred but not explicitly stated.

  • I don't think it's really a matter of we are supposed to draw the conclusion X. It's just a straightforward assertion that acknowledged experts / pundits / other people in general think that way (so arguably you the reader should agree with them if you don't know any better, but that's not necessarily implicit in the construction itself). And it's certainly not true that "X" is "inferred" - the substance of "the thinking" is explicitly stated in OP's example. – FumbleFingers Nov 15 '17 at 19:23
  • @FumbleFingers, so what would be the substance of the thinking (which is X I guess) in OP's example? – dan Nov 16 '17 at 1:40
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    @dan: The substance of "proposition X" in the cited context is that society offers higher pay and social status to people who do "difficult" jobs. By implication, jobs for which it's difficult to recruit competent people (not necessarily jobs which those people find difficult to perform). Supposedly those enhanced rewards ensure that enough competent people will apply for the jobs. But when I look at the chronic shortage of competent engineers in the UK, given that engineers are relatively well-paid, it seems to me there must be a fundamental flaw in "the [conventional] thinking". – FumbleFingers Nov 16 '17 at 14:19

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