From NPR

Omar Hurricane is a researcher using the laser. He's at Lawrence Livermore Lab and he goes to work not through those big front doors but through an underground service tunnel.

That long walk down the tunnel gives me a sense of the scale. And actually that's also, in that tunnel where, you know, I start to feel some of the anxieties and kind of give the facility a pat on the wall for good luck.

  1. For "some of the anxieties", I feel a little odd. Usually I say "I have some of these apples." But what's the meaning of "some of the anxieties"? He only has part of the anxieties? How about I started to feel some anxieties?

  2. For "give the facility a pat on the wall". Pat what? Pat the facility or pat the wall? (The facility is referred to a machine used to produce nuclear fusion.)

4 Answers 4

  1. "I start to feel some of the anxieties" is odd standing by itself; "I start to feel some anxieties" would read better. Were this a document written from scratch I think this odd phrasing should have been edited out. But as a transcript it faithfully records what the speaker said, and native speakers do speak sentences that are awkwardly phrased, or flat out ungrammatical.
  2. "The facility" doesn't just refer to the machine, it refers to the whole building and everything in it. Therefore the wall is a part of the facility so patting the wall is patting (a part of) the facility. Here's an external view of the facility from their website: enter image description here
  1. The anxieties that he would expect to experience are starting to make themselves felt as he walks through that tunnel. He does not go from "hey, relaxed" to "omg, omg, I'm so excited and anxious now!!!111" in a second, but he is starting to feel some of the anxieties he expected or he was told to expect.

  2. If you give someone a pat on the back or the shoulder, you do that to encourage and reassure them - to wish them good luck. He is walking through that tunnel and feels as if the machine is going to do something difficult. The feeling is so string that he sees the machine as (almost) human, wanting to reassure it that everything will be all right (and possibly in the process reassure himself as well). Since the machine, even if perceived as human, does not have a back or shoulder to pat, he would pat it on the wall.

  1. This is a transcript of a spoken conversation. It's possible that Hurricane is not a native speaker and/or that he changed his mind about the sentence as he was speaking it; he might have just meant "I start to feel some anxiety." It is also probable that the interview has been edited; perhaps he said some other things that gave context but which were cut from the broadcast. For example, he might have said something like "Some people have anxiety about X, others about Y. Some people are even anxious about Z. [... when I go into the tunnel] I start to feel some of the anxieties [...]." That would be a reasonable way of saying not just that he feels anxious, but that he shares some of the specific anxieties he was talking about earlier.

  2. Already covered in the other answers (analogue of "pat on the back/shoulder" but buildings don't have backs or shoulders).

  • 1
    Excellent point, that transcripts are much more likely to have some of these odd wordings – more so than edited books.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 2:29

The writer is personifying the building. The building, as if a person, is feeling anxieties, and the author is feeling some of them. The pat on the wall is an affectionate gesture of reassurance that you would give to a person.

EDIT: In reply to David's comment, it's possible that the statement was edited. I worked in video for years, and there were many times that we edited statements down to nearly-correct grammar that most people would understand and accept as they heard it. (Though this always bothered my boss, who was extremely detail-oriented.)

I hadn't noticed that you could click on the NPR and see the transcript in its entirety. The speaker mentions themselves, their team, etc, and uses several metaphors, like "taking an exam". So I think my interpretation is still quite reasonable, and to explain my reasoning in more detail:

"I start to feel some of the anxieties" indicates to me that the anxieties are not those of the speaker or any person or group. If it were the speaker's anxieties, he would say, "I start to feel some anxiety", and if it were the anxieties of other people, he would say, "I begin to feel their anxieties", or perhaps "I begin to experience our anxieties" (which is odd in its own way).

As I mentioned, it's possible that there was an audio edit and he originally said something like, "I start to feel some of the anxieties / that are a swirling around this project / and kind of give the facility a pat on the wall..."

The "pat on the wall for good luck" is odd. I guess it's possible that he's made his own ritual, but "pat" isn't an action I'd generally associate with trying to obtain luck. Common actions associated with obtaining good luck are: knocking on wood, rubbing a statue (Buddha's belly, a school mascot's nose), or in particular subcultures things like blowing (on dice in a casino) or slapping (a sign on the way out of a football locker room at the beginning of a game). A pat is generally comforting ("pat on the head"), encouraging ("pat on the shoulder"), congratulatory ("pat on the back"), etc.

So on the whole, it feels like the speaker has attributed the anxieties of those on the project to the building itself, and his gesture is one of reassuring the building that things will be okay, hence calming the building and in some sense decreasing the anxiety and increasing the chances of success.

It's possible that there were two or more edits or poor word choices and what the speaker meant was something like, "As I enter the building, I begin to feel anxiety about whether our project will ultimately succeed, and I pat the walls of the tunnel to give myself some reassurance that we built a firm foundation and will ultimately succeed."

  • I agree about the pat but I don't think it's clear from the text that the speaker is personifying the building as being anxious. It's certainly possible but I'm not sure it's the most likely interpretation. Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 8:21
  • 1
    True, there's not much context there. I'll explain my reasoning a bit more in my answer.
    – Wayne
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 13:56

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