Look who’s talking!

Interplay between the characters (Richard) Castle and (Kate) Beckett in a re-run from the show (season 1 epsode 8, “Ghosts”, originally broadcast 4/27/09) when they come across a suspect’s room littered with photographs of and clippings about another character:

(1) Look who’s stalking!

Ouch, the pun, on

(2) Look who’s talking!

— an expression that might remind you of the movie. From Wikipedia:

Look Who’s Talking is a 1989 romantic comedy film written and directed by Amy Heckerling, and stars John Travolta and Kirstie Alley. Bruce Willis plays the voice of Mollie’s son, Mikey. The film features George Segal as Albert, the illegitimate father of Mikey.

[Note: the tv show Castle (Wikipedia link) is something of a favorite of mine, and deserves a posting of its own, along with the two stars, Nathan Fillion as Castle (following his success in the fine tv series Firefly) and Stana Katic (in her breakthrough role) as Beckett, who manages to be both really tough and really glamorous.]

Similarly, Look Who’s Talking is used by the Stanford linguistics newsletter The Sesquipedalian as a header for a list of Stanford people giving talks at various places. What we have here is a little construction / idiom I’ll call LookIQ:

LookIQ: imperative look + indirect question, directing the hearer’s attention to something happening in the context, expressing an emphatic imperative, with a tinge of surprise

So: Look what you’re doing! Look where you’re going! Look what’s going on in the corner! Look how I do this! Look who he’s kissing!

Now, look is a perception verb, and perception verbs in general take IQs as complements (She saw how I did the move. He heard what they said. She smelled who was standing next to her.) But look, though it’s a perception verb, doesn’t participate in this construction: *She looked how I did the move. Instead, we have the perception V + P look at: She looked at how I did the move. He looked at what I was doing. She looked at who was talking. But look + IQ and look at + IQ, though close, are subtly different in meaning, in ways that aren’t easy to tease out.

In addition, English has an exclamatory particle look, which is not perceptual: Look, I’m not going to kid you, buddy. More important, it has the very similar-sounding perceptual look in the imperative: Look, boss! Ze plane!

Out of these ingredients we get the idiomatic LookIQ, which combines some of the content of perceptual look at (You should look at who’s talkingLook at who’s talking!) and some of the content of the imperative perceptual look.

But wait! There’s more! LookIQ is idiomatic, but it also serves as the basis for a “speech-act idiom” with an IQ headed by who. At least one idiom dictionary (the Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed. 2006) treats this idiom as specifically involving the IQ who’s talking:

Look who’s talking! (informal): something that you say when someone criticizes another person for doing something that they do themselves ‘She drinks too much, that’s her problem.’ ‘Look who’s talking!’

The general strategy is to impugn a speaker’s standing to speak. This can be done in any number of ways (“Who are you to say that she drinks too much?” etc.), but the Cambridge Idioms Dictionary treats the “Look who’s talking” version as having become conventionalized in this use.



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