1

The title is clear, I suppose. This question appeared when I saw someone who's a native English commented something like this:

We'd have to ask an alien and I haven't seen one for days.

In my opinion, the phrase for days is quite the same as for ages or for a long time. That makes me think, it's supposedly used when someone has seen it before. For instance:

After the divorce, I haven't seen her for days

In my example above, I believe, it means I've known my ex-wife and I've met her, but after the divorce I haven't seen her for ages in a long time interval.

That would be different, if the case is I never saw her that means we were not even married. Like when I say:

Never did I meet your daughter, Paul. Is she beautiful?

That means that I truly never saw Paul's daughter before.

My final question, are those sentences (in the title) equivalent? Thanks in advance!

4

We use 'for days, weeks, months, years' (etc) to mean a period of time for which it is sensible to use the term chosen. For example, 'for days' means 'a small number of days'. The maximum is not exactly defined, but if the time was more than 14 days we might decide to say 'for weeks'. It has been raining for hours, my dog has been missing for days, my mother has been away for weeks, that supermarket has been closed for months, I haven't driven a car for years.

I know of two alternative US slang meanings, in US gay culture - an exclamation of surprise or shock 'You won the sweepstake? For days!' and one arising out of Black culture in the 1960s, meaning 'a lot of something' - e.g. 'A certain singer has a lovely face, great figure, and legs for days'. I do not believe that either of these meanings is intended.

The remark about not having seen an alien 'for days' is a joke. Nobody has seen any aliens. The joke pretends that aliens exist (when everyone knows that they have not so far been found). Consider: to know what my brother is planning, you'd need a mind-reader, and I haven't seen one of those for weeks.

9
  • Well, your answer is undeniably better than mine but about the alien part. In the example maybe the person was in another kind of world? Oct 15 '21 at 7:28
  • @SorryI'mDumb - Why assume that? There is no evidence, and that type of joke, based on impossibility, is common enough. You asked me to dig a 30 metre deep pit in two hours. Well, I'd need a Martian atomic-powered laser excavator to do that, and when I called the hire company they were all being used by customers. Oct 15 '21 at 7:33
  • ;-; I didn't say it was a fact, just the example being a kind of a metaphor? Oct 15 '21 at 7:35
  • 1
    It's a common type of joke, and often jokes depend on metaphor and counterfactualness. Oct 15 '21 at 7:38
  • Oh, well I get it now. Thanks for your time. Oct 15 '21 at 7:40
1

We'd have to ask an alien and I haven't seen one for days.

This type of joke is called a 'bait and switch' by comedians, or formally called a paraprosdokian, if you want to dig into it more:

A type of setup where a character leads the audience or other characters into thinking they are going to say or do something, but says or does something unexpected. This is usually a joke, and if the punch line of the joke causes the first part to take on a new meaning (e.g., "I just flew in from Chicago, and boy are my arms tired"), it is technically called a "paraprosdokian."

So in the example from TV tropes if someone says "I just flew in from Chicago...", you're picturing them on an aeroplane & expect them to tell you something about their flight (it was really busy/delayed/the food was no good), but then they switch it for the absurd mental image of them flapping instead ("boy, are my arms tired!").

It's the same format with the line you quoted:

We'd have to ask an alien...

You're expecting them to finish with "but of course they don't exist".

Here are some more examples from Wikipedia:

  • "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it." — Groucho Marx
  • "I haven't slept for ten days, because that would be too long." — Mitch Hedberg
  • "I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat." — Will Rogers

Normally these usages are playing on multiple variants of meaning for the same words — e.g. "I haven't slept for days" is a common way of saying "it's been days since I slept" (interval), but the 'bait-and-switch' turns it into duration. "Organized political party" is a phrase we use to talk about mainstream parties that are registered in some way, but he turns it around that the party is in disarray.

-1

Yes, you are correct about "someone has seen it before."

Both for days and for ages are completely different, sure they are similar but in some cases. The two sentences can be different since we can use for days when, for example, after my friend left the party, I haven't seen him for days (This could either mean for a few days or as you say it, for ages).

More examples,

After we had a heated argument last week, I haven't seen Chris for days.

  • We can say this means few days.

and

After I graduated college, I haven't seen Jennifer for ages.

  • While we can say this as in a few years.

It just depends on the sentence. While for days and for ages is the same, for ages is a recurring activity over a longer period of time.

"Never did I" indicates shock, astonishment, flabbergasted, etc.

9
  • Thank you, and related to the question, did the native in the first quote use for days correctly? Can the usage of for days after I haven't seen (someone) mean something that he never encountered before?
    – user516076
    Oct 15 '21 at 4:01
  • 1
    Assuming that the "alien" referred to is an extraterrestrial, the speaker who said he hadn't seen an alien for days was using humorous understatement. "for days" is not equivalent to "ever", except in such a joke. Oct 15 '21 at 4:07
  • We'd have to ask an alien and I haven't seen one for days? If yes, I'm not sure since it can either mean both but seeing the word aliens, it must be for ages. For example, I haven't seen Jake for days. No, he has already encountered that "something" if he said "for days" since reading the sentence, you can assume he has already seen it, because he is mentioning it. Oct 15 '21 at 4:08
  • Oh, it's joke? ;-; Oct 15 '21 at 4:08
  • 1
    @SorryI'mDumb your last comment is what exactly I want as an answer. Thank you so much! And by the way, I've upvoted your answer, but seemed like someone had downvoted your answer. Just want you to know that you have my upvote. Thanks btw.
    – user516076
    Oct 15 '21 at 5:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .