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Six men are about to rob a bank. They sit outside it in a car. One of the men tells two of the men that they're going to wait in the car while the four others go in and do the job. The two men don't like that. One of them says:

This is not what I signed up for!

To which the man in charge responds:

You and your friend signed up to do exactly as I tell you to.

Questions:

  • Is the phrase "this is not what I signed up for" perfectly natural to use in this context?

  • Is the response phrased naturally as well?

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  • 3
    Both sentences are natural, colloquial English. The second sentence might be a little more so without the final 'to'. If the man in charge has a degree in English he might say "...exactly as you were told," Jan 31 at 21:50
  • In German it is, jokingly: "Das hab' ich nicht gebucht!" A metaphor invoking the image of a trip booked through an agency which fails to be as promised. Feb 1 at 19:33
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The phrases are so commonplace they are cliches.

If this were UK English, the second sentence would probably be:

"You and your friend signed up to do exactly what I tell you."

Or "... what I tell you to." Not important, that last "to" or not.

Or "... what I tell you to do." But then it starts sounding wordy and unwieldy.

but apart from that, I'm fairly sure that the above exchange happens in more than one slapstick crime movie.

6
  • I think "tell you to do" would be more likely
    – JCRM
    Feb 1 at 12:32
  • @JCRM Maybe. Cross-pond nuances and all that. Feb 1 at 12:39
  • We're both the rainy side of the pond...
    – JCRM
    Feb 1 at 12:43
  • 1
    Personal aesthetics, then. I personally find that adding the "to do" makes it a bit unwieldy and rather more wordy than you'd expect from Slugger Malone in the immediate pre-job fun-rush. Feb 1 at 12:48
  • ... but the repetition of "to do" provides emphasis. On reflection, I agree, it's more factory owner than gangster
    – JCRM
    Feb 1 at 13:39
6

First of all, I never robbed a bank. Nor have I ever been in a car full of people who were planning to rob a bank. Thus, I have never heard their conversation, which makes it impossible for me to verify that this kind of talk is "perfectly natural to use in this context" or "phrased naturally."

But let's change the context to something I am more liable to witness or participate in, such as cleaning up a store after a breakin with a smashed-in front window. There's lots of glass so we know the cleaning job will be challenging. The window has been boarded up so we think we will at least be secure from the bad guys and weather. Then the man in charge says:

"I want two people to guard the doors and keep out customers." The man in charge points at people and orders, "You go to the front door and you go to the back door."

Insert conversation in question:

One of them says:

This is not what I signed up for!

To which the man in charge responds:

You and your friend signed up to do exactly as I tell you to.

Yes, I think that is natural and correct, especially if the situation is rather tense and I think it might be rather tense, either for cleaning up a broken-in store or robbing a bank. The man in charge might say "what I tell you to" rather than "as I tell you to." However, that might simply be a regional difference in language, pertinent to North America. It is my opinion that your story is good to go even though I have never participated in bank robberies.

2

The phrasing of "to sign up for something" is often used in situations when there is trouble.

When a speaker doesn't like what is happening, especially when there is conflict, violence or legal trouble, the speaker might say "I didn't sign up for this." It could also be used when someone doesn't like the job or task they are assigned.

The response is just mimicry in order to create the effect of ridicule. In other words, the response is actually funny and is play between mimicry and the fact that it is well used in this situation.

1

"this is not what I signed up for" is what you might say if you started doing the task and then found that you did not like it. While the action is only hypothetical or an instruction, you would probably says "that is not what I signed up for", and "that is" would usually be contracted to "that's".

Also, people don't usually "sign-up" to criminal gangs. The term is almost always used in respect of joining the military. It is not strictly wrong, but it has connotations you should consider. To me it suggest formal or long-term membership. Certainly in British English it would be taken as an extreme hyperbole to use it in relation to civilian employment.

Regarding the response, I would drop the last word: "You and your friend signed up to do exactly as I tell you" (you have already dropped one word, in full it would be "as I tell you to do").

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  • 4
    "people don't usually "sign-up" to criminal gangs" -- correct, but this usage is hyperbole. People say "I didn't sign up for this" in all sorts of situations which are not necessarily militaristic. "I didn't sign up for this!" screams a child-man refusing to attend to his new baby's toiletary needs, for example. "I didn't sign up for this," wails an emotionally devastated person suddenly left alone to care for a seriously disabled or elderly relative. Sorry, that got dark., Feb 1 at 12:09
  • Around here you might "sign up" (sometimes literally on the "sign up sheet", sometimes just verbally/implied) to bring snacks for the next book club meeting, or to drive the carpool van on a specific day, or to attend tryouts for a singing group, or any other situation where someone specifically agrees to take on a task. Feb 2 at 17:31

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