1

In Sweet Smell of Success (1957), J.J confronts Dallas, who is in love with J.J's sister Susan:

Dallas: I'm here as an average Joe who happens to love your sister.

J.J: Well, just be careful you don't knock her off her feet, hmm? Stanley, move it to your right a little bit. Now, frankly, son, I lost you on that last hill.

What does "last hill" mean?

6
  • 2
    Some more context would help. Are they perhaps walking through hilly territory? Also, is JJ speaking to Dallas or Stanley? It probably won't make much difference though. JJ's last sentence has effectively no meaning at all without context, and with context the meaning should be obvious. Certainly on that last hill isn't an idiom with an established meaning. Jan 18, 2023 at 15:17
  • ...but I suspect JJ "misspoke", and what he really means is You lost me (I ceased to be able to understand what you were talking about). Native speakers do sometime "invert" the logical subject and object in such constructions, even if it apparently makes no sense to do so. Jan 18, 2023 at 15:21
  • @FumbleFingers JJ is speaking to Dallas not Stanley. Jan 18, 2023 at 15:27
  • 1
    Guessing wildly, might JJ and Dallas be playing a round of golf, and Stanley is the caddy? Golf courses often have little hills all over the place Jan 18, 2023 at 15:29
  • Here son is Dallas. Jan 18, 2023 at 15:48

1 Answer 1

2

As it happens, I have access to that movie with subtitles, so I found the relevant fragment at 1:04.05.

Note that the context is a busy movie set, where Stanley, move it to your right a little bit is just an irrelevant bit of dialogue going on in the background.

JJ (Burt Lancaster) is (sloppily?) mixing a couple of different metaphors. The second one (Just give us the punchline) alludes to a comedian telling a joke (itself metaphorically derived from boxing's knockout punch). JJ means Get to the point!

The first metaphoric usage (You lost me on that last hill) never had any currency, but the meaning is clear enough to this native speaker (...on that last thing you just said).

My guess is it's at least associated with That's not a hill to die on (it's not a point worth fighting to the death over), which is metaphorically derived from the military context of lengthy / costly fighting to defend / overrun militarily strategic positions.

Figuratively speaking, there's the well-established garden path sentence, which draws a parallel between following a train of thought expressed in words and walking along a (winding) path. JJ's usage just stretches that into "walking over hill and dale" - with a guide who might drop out of sight behind the last / next hill1, in certain circumstances (such as a long line of thinly-spread Wild West pioneers' wagons).


Note that most native speakers2 would say You lost me there (you didn't express yourself clearly enough for me), rather than I lost you there (I failed to understand, perhaps because I wasn't paying attention). But both versions are "almost" equivalent, and would rarely be explicitly differentiated by either speaker or audience.


1 It belatedly occurs to me that just as the metaphor works with both You lost me and I lost you, either party to the "communications breakdown" might be figuratively behind the last or next hill. Assume whichever makes most sense to you.

2 I should have checked! For most of my life, the You lost me version was twice as common as I lost you. But the position has reversed over the last decade or two (no-one is ever going to convince me that the usage shift relates to changed circumstances / different meanings).

You must log in to answer this question.

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