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In Russia, tasks eat YOU!

There are several business quasi-jargon phrases that I believe warrant further study, such as “to touch base” and “to be on the same page.” Today, however, I’d like to focus on the notion of “having a lot on your plate.” Sometimes one hears that a task is being taken off someone’s plate, but normally the metaphor is limited to having a full, and indeed overfull, plate.

Presumably this plate is full of food, since there is not much else that is normally stacked on a plate. Now you might have a lot on your plate after taking a trip to an all-you-can-eat buffet, for example. In these cases, the plate’s fullness results from an act of will. The implication, however, is that normally your portion size is out of your control. I thus picture a kind of sadistic all-you-can-eat buffet where they don’t just take your word for it — instead, they aggressively push food on you to see for themselves what the true level of “all” you can eat is. You might be able to ask that a particular food item be taken off your plate if there is another diner willing to take it, but that is only a stop-gap measure — the force-feeding will continue, and you will have gained at best a few seconds of breathing room.

Continuing the metaphor, we might think of weekends and vacations as bathroom breaks — though they feel good in the moment, their ultimate purpose is solely to clear out our system sufficiently to allow further force-feedings. (Staying connected to e-mail, etc., on the weekend might then be likened to bringing a snack into the bathroom.)

I leave further extension of the plate metaphor as an exercise for the reader.


October 28, 2009 - Posted by | language


  1. Other plates are frequently stacked on plates.

    Comment by ben | October 28, 2009

  2. True, but then one normally refers to the stack as a whole, rather than focusing on the bottom plate as a plate with a lot “on it.”

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | October 28, 2009

  3. In my experience, the people who complain the most – the ones who act like they’re the poor guy in Se7en – are actually spending a lot of effort sneaking treats and empty calories between what they insists are the forced gorgings.

    I stray from the essentials on my plate as well, of course, but I freely admit that I am just kind of choosing not to eat the less enjoyable food “on my plate”.

    Comment by Matt in Toledo | October 28, 2009

  4. Was it an act of will not to picture a child, just old enough to sit eye level at the adult table, plate piled high with lima beans, brussel sprouts, and broccoli, plagued by the thought of severe dessert regulation imposed by an overbearing mother who waits, watching for any change in facial expression hinting at the child’s disgust at the task so that she can enhance your bedtime to an earlier hour?

    Or is that just me…

    Comment by Colin | October 28, 2009

  5. That actually would’ve been a much better direction to take this. I guess I wasn’t force-fed enough as a kid, and this particular blog post suffered because of it.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | October 28, 2009

  6. i think sometimes that my superiors keep loading me more and more work just to see when they’ll force me to quit so far i’m expandible so, but maybe not for that long

    Comment by Read | October 29, 2009

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