I am not sure about the meaning of the phrase "to shuffle somebody through the motions":

Lynette laughs about these blind dates because she knows most of her single friends are being shuffled through the same motions, but admits that both instances were terribly awkward.

In online dictionaries, I found "to go through the motions", but not "to shuffle somebody through the motions". Could the example sentence be an error?

  • 2
    Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but in my opinion this particular usage itself is "awkward". You normally go through the motions yourself (unenthusiastically, but voluntarily). Personally, I find the downside of the semantic clash between forced actions (put through one's paces), and the juxtaposed senses of shuffle (generate random permutations, and move lethargically) represent a distracting metaphor too far. It just doesn't work for me because shuffle X can't be used for make X shuffle. – FumbleFingers May 21 '14 at 15:25

SUPPLEMENTAL to Jay’s answer:
It’s really a very artful image.

As Jay tells you, this expression has as its ‘base’ the idiom go through the motions, meaning to perform required or conventional actions mechanically, without emotional engagement. And shuffle has the overtones Jay describes which enhance this notion.

I think, however, that the passive form here requires us to understand shuffle in its ordinary transitive sense: we shuffle a deck of cards, to randomize their order.

The author describes the “holiday blitzkrieg” to which Lynnette is subjected, in the context of “marriage markets” where

parents and grandparents gather to flip through tomes and tomes of Xeroxed copies listing the names, occupations and salaries of available singles with whom they might be able to pair off their progeny.

Lynnette and her friends are passive. The parents and grandparents shuffle them into a ‘deck’ and arbitrarily ‘deal’ them out for dates with cards from the ‘deck’ of prospective husbands, hoping that eventually someone will come up with a winning pair.


"To shuffle" is to walk with slow, short steps, either sliding your feet along the ground or just barely lifting them. That is, it is a slow walk that someone who is very tired or weak, or who is hurt, or who is reluctant to go where they are supposed to go, might do.

So to "shuffle through the motions" is a variation on "go through the motions". It means that she did the steps that she was required or expected to make, but she did them slowly and without enthusiasm, because she didn't have the energy to do them or didn't want to do them.

  • So, "to shuffle somebody through the motions" is non-standard? – meatie May 21 '14 at 13:40
  • It's not a standard or common phrase. But I think any fluent English speaker would immediately understand it. – Jay May 21 '14 at 13:43

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