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One of my colleagues committed to complete a work by last week. Even after a week he didn't complete his task.

Today when I asked him about the work status, he said he will do it by end of today. After that he asked this question:

"Do you by any chance have a needle nose pliers by where you sit?"

I didn't understand instantly what he meant. I though he was asking for a needle nose plier device. I said,

"I don't think so"

He replied:

"That's cool Just Wondering"

I am a not a native English speaker. What does he mean when he said "needle nose where you sit"? Am I torturing him to get the work done ? Is that what he said ? Or was he really asking for the tool?

  • Next time try replying, "I'll take a look around – what do you need them for?" His answer might be able to tell you if he's being facetious or sarcastic, or really asking for a tool. – J.R. Oct 1 '15 at 16:46
  • Are needle-nose pliers common tools in your field of work? – Obie 2.0 Oct 1 '15 at 23:06
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My guess is OP's colleague was making a clumsy attempt to be "witty" - he's just not very good at it.

He probably referred to needle nose pliers because he was really thinking Quit needling me! (Stop pestering me). Perhaps influenced by You're nit-picking! (obsessing over minor details), and Stop picking on me! (specifically attacking me rather than others), since needle nose pliers are often used to "pick" objects or material out of awkward locations.

There are other common idiomatic usages that may have influenced his (probably, "one-off") usage, including have a bug up one's ass / bee in one's bonnet, be a pain in the ass, etc. Essentially, figurative references to irritating sharp pointy things, particularly around one's posterior / seat.


The fact that he used such an obscure expression to a non-native speaker suggests to me OP's colleague actually has quite limited interpersonal communicative skills. I certainly wouldn't advise learners in general to take too much notice of how people like that [try to] express themselves.

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I'm not aware of any common phrase that uses "needle nose pliers" in a sarcastic or facetious way (at least not in the US). So unless it was an inside joke, he was probably really asking for a physical pair of needle nose pliers. Your disbelief that he would ask for such a thing makes me doubt though. At face value, his response, "That's cool. Just wondering," is benign as well.

From what you've provided, it appears to have been a genuine request to me. But, to recognize a sarcastic remark in writing is difficult. Even in-person it's not always obvious, but at least you have nonverbal cues and tone of voice to help you.

When in doubt, you could try the advice J.R. and Victor gave in their comments. Asking why the pliers are needed would be a valid response to his question and might elicit his real motive.

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Do you [by any chance] have a [needle nose pliers] by [where you sit]?

is the same as

Do you have them close to that place?

if we simply omit "by any chance" as superfluous and call "needle nose pliers" as "them" and "where you sit" as "that place".

Your coworker wasn't asking whether you had the pliers on your seat, but "by", which means "in close vicinity", "around", "about".

  • thanks for the answer. But I didn't understand the summary of your answer. I short... Does he asking the tool(device) or he just sarcastic ? – madhu_karnati Oct 1 '15 at 15:18
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    @madhureddy480 - depends on what you do for work... – Stephie Oct 1 '15 at 15:32
  • You could always reply "No, I don't; what do you need those for?" if you think he doesn't need them for work. Perhaps he was just fixing something on his keychain... – Victor Bazarov Oct 1 '15 at 15:57
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Most citizens, at least in Western society, usually don't dress up their feelings in cryptic sayings unless they're performing. It's pretty inefficient.

"Do you by any chance have a needle nose pliers by where you sit?"

He's genuinely asking you for the tool. He used the phrase "by any chance" to show that he thinks it's unlikely you have the pliers, but he wanted to ask anyway just to be sure. He reiterates that he didn't expect you to have the tool he wanted and that it's no issue when he says "That's cool. Just wondering."

This is treading into philosophical territory, but trying to figure out whether someone's being sarcastic or not in Western culture is usually a waste of time, in my opinion. Literally any sentence can be portrayed sarcastically -- it's a lame linguistic device when it's used to be passive-aggressive. I just respond bluntly if I am even slightly unsure. If they were actually trying to be rude and I just "didn't get it," well, what did I lose out on? A rude remark? Yeah, thanks. (There's some sarcasm for you.)

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