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A line from A Home of Our Own (1993)

We're not religious either, but a taste of it couldn't hurt. And who knows? It might take on one of these heathens.

I don't think it is a common usage of "take" that's invoked in this line, but it is recognizable as short for "take root". It seems this usage "something takes on someone" is rare and isolated. Also the preposition sounds jarring to me. I would have used "in". A belief takes root in people. So why "take on one of these heathens" not "It might take root in one of these heathens"?

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    I think you've analyzed it exactly right. It would have been easier to read as you've rewritten it. The word "heathen" doesn't appear in your reference, so I don't know if you heard it or read it, but it may have been easier to understand spoken in the mentioned film.The thing that clarifies it is the phrase "take root", but "take on" doesn't sound farfetched either. Spoken a certain way, it might be quite clear to a native speaker. – Jack O'Flaherty Oct 1 '20 at 0:35
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    Maybe take is used in the sense of a graft taking on something. – Kate Bunting Oct 1 '20 at 8:33
  • imdb.com/title/tt0107130/characters/nm0644902 It's definitely odd. I've tried several solutions and explanations and none convinced me. I would have said "take off with one of these heathens" as in to be popular, especially liked. – Mari-Lou A Oct 3 '20 at 17:39
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The intransitive senses of take (eg the latter five or so on wiktionary) are used for something having a successful implementation or effect or influence. "It didn't take" is a common expression, meaning "the new thing which needed time or luck did not succeed", be it a change in careers, an organ transplant, quitting cigarettes, or as your example, a plant taking root. Sometimes humorous (as in this quote).

As a native speaker, I find this quote to be confusing, since I am inclined to read it as "take on", like "I will take on new clients" or "the boat was taking on water". But in spoken language (I haven't seen this movie), the line should have a slightly greater emphasis on "take" than "on", versus if it were a sentence like one of my examples in this paragraph: "It might TAKE on one..." versus "It might TAKE ON one...".

I take it, as you do, that the speaker means "religion might have a lasting effect on these heathens" by some sustained, incidental exposure to it.

Definitely sounds like southern US dialect.

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