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What does "lest you step in a thousand puddles with fresh socks on" mean in this quote from Yahoo Finance:

give that man privacy lest you step in a thousand puddles with fresh socks on

I learned that "lest" means "with the intention of preventing" or "because of the possibility of something undesirable happening". So does the phrase either mean "give that man privacy with the intention of preventing you from stepping in a thousand puddles with fresh socks on" or "give that man privacy because of the possibility of you stepping in a thousand puddles with fresh socks on"? However, to me neither of them makes sense.

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  • I think the idea is {1000 instances of stepping in a puddle with fresh socks}, not {donning a pair of fresh socks and then stepping in 1000 puddles}. (Apologies if that is obvious.)
    – Carsogrin
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 11:25

5 Answers 5

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Lest can also mean "for fear that" or "so that [something] does not occur."

In this case, the [something] is a semi-humorous way to describe an unpleasant experience. The author is using 'stepping in puddles with fresh socks' to mean something along the lines of 'having bad luck.' The idea is that invading the actor's privacy is an act which will earn bad karma for the people who do it.

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  • Thank you all so very much for your detailed explanations!
    – Maurice
    Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 1:05
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The writer here is trying to create a mock "proverb", in pseudo-biblical style language.

There are various proverbs in the real bible that have this kind of structure, eg Proverbs chapter 5 "Do not go near the door [of the foreign woman] lest you concede your vigour to others, and your years to one who is cruel..."

The general structure of these proverbs is "{advice} lest {consequence if you don't follow the advice}". Often there seems to be little obvious connection between the advice and the consequence! (what do foreign women have to do with losing vigour?) In the mock example, the "consequence" is comically ridiculous.

So it does mean "give him privacy, with the intention of preventing you from stepping in 1000 puddles..." and that is deliberately ridiculous.

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  • I question "mock"; I submit that the author is mirroring - possibly even parodying - the "{advice} lest {consequence}" style of proverb popularized by the Bible, but I don't think it's mocking the form.
    – minnmass
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 15:46
  • 2
    @minnmass The adjective “mock” can simply mean “imitation, fake”. It doesn’t have to be in the mean spirit usually carried by the verb “to mock”. Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 16:51
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Your understanding of the word "lest" is correct. It seems to me like the original author of the sentence misused the word. I think that what they meant was something along the lines of:

Give that man privacy; if you don't, then may you step in a thousand puddles with fresh socks on!

The meaning is that if you don't give that man privacy, then you deserve to be punished by having to step in a thousand puddles while wearing socks. (That is, of course, a very silly punishment.)

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This is intentionally wrong/off in two ways -- the intention being to soften it.

The metaphor is clever; one gets a fairly clear emotional picture of the " \ ooohh \ " one would experience.

The statement is softened in two ways. One is that {that picture} is obviously unrelated to {anything about the man's privacy}... and thus silly.

The other is that the grammar is terrible. "Lest X" means "Do [not] do P, because X follows not [not] P." ...Or might well follow. Contrarily -- even if the puddle thing was related to the privacy thing -- only the emotion has any causal connection; stepping in puddles (albeit accidentally) is something I do -- not a bad effect, nor a punishment anyone might inflict on me.

...Also the "thousand" element.

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There's also an implicit time factor in the line.

Socks and feet do not dry instantly. To step in one puddle will wet them, to immediately step in a second puddle will not create the same feeling of becoming wet - they're already wet.

This line is therefore suggesting there will be multiple future events of regret and badness, separated by time.

A thousand could be one event a day for three years - the consequence will not blow-over quickly.

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