9

There's a scene in the movie Red Dawn:

After a skirmish in which two members of the group died:

Jed Eckert : [after the deaths of Aardvark and Colonel Tanner] It's kind of strange, isn't it? How the mountains pay us no attention at all. You laugh or you cry... The wind just keeps on blowing.

Matt Eckert : You're getting pretty lean on feelings, aren't you?

Jed Eckert : I can't afford them.

Matt Eckert : Even if that had been me instead of Aardvark?

More script can be found here and here.

Given that one of the meanings of the adjective lean is "thin", does the line mean "You are becoming emaciated because of your feelings"?

  • 3
    I think the speaker is conflating low on and lean since they have similar meanings. We don't say My car is lean on gas (at least I've never heard that) but low on gas. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 15 '18 at 20:01
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo actually, I've heard that phrase more than once. – barbecue May 16 '18 at 0:16
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To be lean on feelings means to be low on feelings.

Similar to my car is getting lean on gas (it doesn't have much gas left).

If things are lean, it means "they are very low, or kept as low as possible." (Cambridge). This is how lean (on) is used in this context.

This is why the character says I can't afford them. In the present situation in the movie, he cannot "afford" [to have] feelings, so he keeps them as low as possible. (There might be so much trauma going on that he simply cannot afford to have many feelings and remain sane or be able to act in the current situation, and as I recall the movie is about a Soviet invasion of the USA.)

There are two other idiomatic uses of lean on, neither of which fit this context:

1 to depend on something or someone (He leaned on his father all his life.)

2 to pressure someone (They really leaned on me to pay back the money I owed him.)

Of course there is the straightforward meaning of lean on, as in

He leaned on the wall while he waited for his turn.

  • 2
    Have you really heard lean on gas? I've only heard low on gas. I'm from the northeastern part of the US. Is it possibly a southernism? – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 15 '18 at 20:02
  • 1
    @Tᴚoɯɐuo - I've not heard "lean on gas," either, but I've heard similar expressions with lean (such as "lean on cash," for example). – J.R. May 15 '18 at 21:23
  • The only lean on gas I know of is when the fuel mixture itself is lean. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 15 '18 at 21:43
  • 2
    or kept as low as possible -- yes, I believe there is a rationing implication with lean. – rrauenza May 15 '18 at 23:07

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