20

We tried, but the window couldn't be opened. It was painted shut.

I am wondering what the bolded part could mean.

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    What would you guess? Just quickly - what comes to mind? – Stephie Jan 14 '15 at 16:14
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    It's literally "painted shut", meaning when the window was painted the paint "glued" the wing to the frame. – Stephie Jan 14 '15 at 16:19
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    Looking at Google images might help you get a better idea. It shows pictures of people dealing with windows that have been painted shut. – Adam Jan 14 '15 at 16:19
27

We tried, but the window couldn't be opened. It was painted shut.

It was painted to a "shut condition". The process of painting the window resulted in it being shut. The paint got in the gaps between the frames and glued the frames together. So, in order to open the window, you need first to get all the paint out of all the clearances.

Here's another example:

I tried to eat the fish, but could not. It was cooked dry. (it was unpleasant to eat: the fish was overcooked to a dry condition)

He tried to drink tea, but could not. We had drunk the teapot empty. (our drinking of tea resulted in the teapot becoming empty)

And one good example from Harry Potter:

At breakfast on Thursday she bored them all stupid with flying tips she'd gotten out of a library book called Quidditch Through the Ages. (They were in a "stupid" condition as a result of hearing all the boring things she told them)


P.S.

Snailboat wrote a nice answer to a related question: Is it possible to use adjectives as adverbs?

  • @Stephie - thank you! I just recently investigated this mechanism. – CowperKettle Jan 14 '15 at 16:26
  • Or rather "learned of this mechanism". – CowperKettle Jan 14 '15 at 16:37
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    I disagree on a subtle point. The fish was cooked, causing it to be dry. Our drinking of tea resulted in the teapot becoming empty. But the process of painting the window didn’t result in it being shut. It was already shut when it was painted. The process of painting the window while it was shut (without using masking tape properly) and leaving it shut while the paint dried resulted in it being sealed / glued / stuck in the closed position. – Scott Jan 15 '15 at 0:48
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    @Scott Not sure I agree. A window has to be closed for the expression to work. And we can say I painted the closed window shut. So it seems 'shut' as in not open is different from 'shut' as in no longer operable. We don't paint a window closed, when meaning render it inoperable. – user6951 Jan 15 '15 at 13:30
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    Compare also "nailed the coffin shut". This doesn't imply to me that the coffin was open, and only the application of the hammer and nails closed it. You'd shut it first, using your hand, then nail it shut. Either we're using "shut" to mean "incapable of being opened", or else we're using "nailed/painted shut" to mean "maintained in a shut condition by nailing/painting", as opposed to "put into a shut condition" as in the cooking/drinking examples. I can't tell which, but I know that when I hear "painted shut" I don't think, "aha, it must have been open when the painter arrived". – Steve Jessop Jan 15 '15 at 16:40
16

Without wanting to point out the obvious; It's painted. The paint is holding the window closed

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    It's probably less "obvious" than a native speaker might think. This question has got more than 10 upvotes, and one of its answers is over 20 upvotes. – J.R. Jan 15 '15 at 10:04
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    Sash windows often get at least one of their sashes painted shut as it is impossible to paint them properly without dismantling the frame. – Tim Band Jan 15 '15 at 11:00
4

Although the others answers here are correct in terms of the literal meaning, they miss the figurative meaning.

The literal meaning is that the window has been painted over and is now sealed shut by the strength of the paint. It's not possible to open the window with ease, it would take significant effort or removal of some paint.

The figurative meaning of the phrase is that something hasn't been used for so long that it has essentially lost some or all its function - or when used as a metaphor, it's used to describe someone who has lost some of their skill.

The window is still a window, but it doesn't really function like one any more through lack of use. ie it hasn't been used for so long that it's been painted over several times.

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    Just signed up to ELL to say pretty much the same thing, as I'd found an example of it's figurative use, but you beat me to it. *8') It's painted shut with guilt – Mark Booth Jan 15 '15 at 0:35
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    Where have you come across a standard figurative meaning? I haven't encountered it. (Native AmE.) Like any other expression, painted shut can be used figuratively, but I don't hear that in the example passage. – Ben Kovitz Jan 15 '15 at 1:52
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    Man, that window I couldn't open was painted shut (due to, for example, long time disuse) is not a "figurative expression" I'm familiar with. @Ben Kovitz – user6951 Jan 15 '15 at 2:44
  • However it wouldn't at all be surprising if a figurative usage in a popular song started being used. Or that a popular figurative usage was used in a song. But which came first, if either? And if @Mark Booth created an account just to comment on a known figurative usage, then that says something--but only if people are actually using this as a figurative term. I may not be hanging around with the right people. And/or this usage hasn't made it to my neighborhood. – user6951 Jan 15 '15 at 3:06

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