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WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump and his allies are escalating efforts to undermine the criminal case against him and drum up protests as the former president braces for a history-making federal court appearance this week on dozens of felony charges accusing him of illegally hoarding classified information.

Source: AP

The phrase "brace for" sounds, to me, as if it has a positive meaning. In the case above, does it simply sound neutral? Or does it always sound neutral in any circumstance?

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    What do you mean by "positive" and "neutral" here? It's obvious from the overall tone of your cited source that the writer has a very negative opinion of Trump, so presumably from their perspective, it's a "good" thing that Trump is being attacked - which he metaphorically braces himself for, which will please the writer (especially if the attack is so strong Trump can't withstand it even by bracing himself). Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 12:45
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    You're wrong: it's extremely negative. "Brace for impact" and so on. Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 21:14
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    @NewPlanet unfortunately the answer you have accepted is incorrect
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 9:36
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    I only know the term in a negative context. You "brace for" bad things to happen, and if you "brace for it" you are merely trying to mitigate impact, not turn it into something positive.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 10:06
  • Adding to my earlier comment, the sole positive use of "brace" is when an experience is described as "bracing": this particularly applies to stormy weather as in the classic advertising hoarding (seen at least until the 1970s) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jolly_Fisherman Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 16:02

2 Answers 2

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Is the phrase "brace for" usually positive? Or is it neutral in this case?

The answer to your question is more complex than you might hope. It might be simpler to believe that "to brace for" isn't positive, negative, or neutral. The words don't apply because bracing against impact or bracing against change is something you do when you know the impact or the change is coming. Not unlike shutting a door is something you do with a door — it's not positive, negative, or neutral.

When can bracing be perceived as positive, negative or neutral?

The idea of bracing being positive, negative or neutral relates to the purpose or consequence for bracing, just as it would in regard to shutting a door.

  • Are you shutting out a potential invader? Then it's a good thing to do (positive).
  • Are you shutting the door on a friend who didn't intend to offend you? Then it's a bad thing to do (negative).
  • Are you simply shutting the door because it's open and it's natural condition is to be closed? Then it's neither good nor bad (neutral).

Bracing against impact or change (meaning, in the case of your question, "to prepare for impact or change") is usually perceived as a good thing (positive) because we tend to believe that preparing for something is always a good thing to do. However, even a good thing taken too far can become a bad thing. If we "brace ourselves against offense" by shutting everyone out of our lives, that's usually a bad (negative) thing.

Muddying the problem is that the word and its common phrase are often used metaphorically, as in the case of the article from the Associated Press. When used in this manner, the purpose of the word or phrase is to give the reader an idea of the size of the problem or the enormity of the impact (e.g., one doesn't usually brace for a sprinkling of rain, but would always brace for a hurricane). Thus, the author of the article used the phrase to imply a great change or a severely difficult time was coming for Mr. Trump. This implies something undesirable and would normally be interpreted as something negative — but that still depends on your point of view. When the United States was considering the issue of Same Sex Marriage back in 2013, the nation braced itself for change. The change wasn't negative, it was certainly good, but the effort to embrace the change was going to be uncomfortable (in the least!) and that discomfort (which is still happening) could be perceived as negative — even if, by some, the discomfort is perceived as deserved.

And that underscores the complexity of determining positive, negative, or neutral. Because it's possible for Mr. Trump to be imprisoned as a result of the trial, representing an enormous impact to or change in his lifestyle, which would be negative to him and so bracing for that change would be a positive for him. Some, on the other hand, believe he is guilty and deserves what he gets. They would see the guilty verdict and Mr. Trump's incarceration as a positive and the act of bracing for the trial as negative.

My father-in-law maintains that anything growing where it doesn't belong is a weed

As I said, the idea of "bracing for" an impact or change really isn't positive, negative or neutral. It's simply something one does when a force (literal or metaphorical) that must be survived is known to be approaching. Whether or not the action was positive, negative, or neutral depends on context, perspective, and expectations.

A flower, beautiful as it is but growing in the middle of your perfectly cut lawn, is a weed simply because it isn't wanted there. A flower growing in a flower bed isn't a weed simply because it is wanted there. If you allow for my imperfect metaphor, a flower is positive or negative because of where it grows, not because it's a flower.

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    This seems a bit like arguing that "success" can be negative, if it's someone you don't like doing the succeeding. From the perspective of the person doing the bracing, it's always to prepare for something with at least some negative aspects. The act of bracing indicates that the person doing the bracing expects some negative effects. How anyone else views it is rather orthogonal to whether it'd be called "bracing" or not. Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 20:36
  • @NuclearHoagie Of course I am. If a terrorist is successful, is that a positive? According to whom? If I brace myself for a financial windfall, are the effects expected to be negative? If I'm required to brace a vehicle frame due to a government standard that has no evidence of a problem (I've dealt with these...) is that a positive or a negative? No, I'm arguing that without context the act of bracing (literally or metaphorically) is none of those things. It's merely an act. Like shutting a door.
    – JBH
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 22:01
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    "According to whom?" - according to the subject of the sentence, otherwise nothing ever makes sense. The final result of following your logic would be that everything is both positive and negative at all times.
    – Davor
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 11:43
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    @JBH "Bracing for a financial windfall" implies that you expect negative consequences like a tax bill or money grubbing relatives - you don't brace for a strictly positive windfall like a birthday card with cash in it. If it's strictly positive, you wouldn't use the negative word "bracing", you'd use a more neutral term like "preparing". I don't understand your view that acts can't have positive/negative connotations themselves, "slamming" a door vs. "shutting" has a negative connotation, as does "trudging" vs. "walking" or "droning" vs. "talking". Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 12:53
  • @NuclearHoagie I would argue that precisely because the thing we brace for is overwhelmingly negative, the actual act of bracing for it is more or less inherently positive. The absence of bracing will have negative consequences, therefore bracing improves (or at least tries to improve) the net outcome, which makes it positive for the person doing the bracing. Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 13:28
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The literal meaning of "brace" in this context is to prepare for a force so that you don't move. Like, if you're driving a car and you're going to get hit from behind, you might push the steering wheel hard so that you don't fly forward after the impact. This is bracing yourself.

More figuratively, it means "prepare for impact" of any kind. Nobody is going to literally hit Trump in court, but it won't be pleasant for him.

To "brace for" something almost always implies something negative like a physical collision or attack, or a figurative one, like a court appearance.

Rarely it implies something neutral or even pleasant but shocking, like if you jump into a freezing cold lake for fun, you'd likely brace yourself against the sudden chill.

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    Almost always negative, sometimes neutral. I could see bracing for a tough challenge you're well-prepared and excited for, for instance. Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 6:38
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    I don't know if this is an authoritative source: Miss World hopeful braced for success 14 November, 2014 A Miss World contestant has flown halfway across the world for pioneering cosmetic dental treatment in Edinburgh, ahead of taking part in the global beauty pageant in London in December. Scottish Dental Magazine Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 7:44
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    @MichaelHarvey - I think there's a bit of cheap wordplay going on there… dental work… braces… Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 9:15
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    @DoneWithThis. - er, yes. I didn't spot that! Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 9:19
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    I could see using "brace for" in a situation where one is expecting a pleasant surprise. The implication being that you might faint from excitement, so you need to be prepared for the emotional shock of the positive news: "Brace yourself ... you just won a million dollars!"
    – R.M.
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 16:08

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