I was reading with my daughter a young learners knowledge book when I came across the text below. There was a picture of a mantis in a plant catching a bug.

Look out, mantis about

Many mantids look like leaves. They keep very still, then shoot out their long front legs to grab a passing insect. A mantis has sharp jaws to slice up its prey and scoop out the soft insides.

My question is about the phrase "mantis about".

1- Is there an ellipsis here? and the phrase is in fact "mantis [is] about [to verb]"

2- If there was an ellipsis, what would the reason be? I mean is it because ellipses is a title? Or because the word "mantis" ends with "s" and so it is appropriate to drop "is" for vocal reasons? Or just for rhyming effects?

By the way I did a Google search and found this link by the same title. Is it a coincidence to have the same rhyming phrase or is it something people say, a fixed phrase or something?


About is being used with sense 5 as given at m-w.com:

in the vicinity : near

There is an ellipsis, but it is

Look out, [there is a] mantis about.

You could consider this to be a "headline-ese" or "announcement/warning" sort of ellipsis, although it does also improve the meter of the phrase to make it a better rhyming couplet.

The phrase as a whole is a sort of catchy, easy to remember reminder that you should pay attention if you want to spot a mantis, since they are often difficult to see. (Alternatively, it can also be taken as a warning to be careful so that you don't accidentally squish a mantis; or, if mantises were dangerous, it would be a warning to avoid the mantis that is in the area.)

I've never heard the phrase before, but since it is a short phrase with an easy, obvious rhyme, I wouldn't be surprised if many mantis-loving people came up with it independently.

  • "Look out" is a complete sentence, but "mantis about" is just a clause. Grammatically, it cannot stand alone or that's what I think. Regardless of being rhymey here, and grammar wise, can I say: Look out, the bad boy about? Can I use this form: (proper name + about) with no verb? – learner Jul 14 '14 at 21:42
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    okay, there IS an ellipsis, but not the one you mentioned. I will clarify. – Hellion Jul 14 '14 at 21:45

I read the sentence as

Look out, (a) mantis (is) about.

Possibly because I unconsciously eschew "there is" sentences.

  • I thought of many and this was one of them – learner Jul 15 '14 at 14:33

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