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They heat the water to make the tea hot, then they put ice in it to make it cold, then they put lemon in it to make it sour, and then they put sugar in it to make it sweet. Go figure.

The sentence is from the dictionary. I vaguely understand the meaning which can be expressed differently depending on the situation. "Weird". I would like to know about the grammatical structure of this idiom. I think it's imperative with two infinitives but I still have doubts.

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  • go figure (it out)
    – user3169
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 5:23
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    To my mind, it's simply an imperative that has undergone elision / deletion: "go [try to] figure [that out]", the implication (by contradiction) is that you won't be able to, because it makes no sense. And since it's a set phrase, I'm not sure it's worthwhile or even possible to ask questions about its syntactic structure or the parts of speech of its components, because they're not functioning as independent words any more: the entire phrase is a single lexeme.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 5:26
  • Go figure it! Late 1950s. books.google.com/… ; books.google.com/…
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 16:30
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    On EL&U: Meaning of “go figure” and its origin?
    – WBT
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 1:23
  • One of the answers to that EL&U question even quotes the same "tea" phrase! Commented Jul 3, 2016 at 23:57

1 Answer 1

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"Go figure" is an abbreviation of "go figure it out", which itself is a colloquialism of "try to figure it out". So, which words, if any, are the infinitives?

Only verbs can be infinitives. So let's mark the verbs in the sentence: "try to figure it out". These are the words we need to focus on. We usually write infinitives as "to do", "to make", "to have"... "Try to figure it out".

Now we have an infinitive in the unabbreviated, formal version. But what about the original phrase, "go figure"? To get that, we track the evolution of the phrase:

try to figure it out
go to figure it out
go figure it out
go figure

So the answer is: Yes, "figure".

Thanks to Dan Bron and TRomano for their information in the comments on the question.

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