Who picks up the phone

In the March 19th issue of the Economist, there is an article “Kamikaze Politics” about political scandals in Japan, which has the following two sentences.

> At midweek a new deputy governor, Masaaki Shirakawa, looked likely, at least for a while, to fill the vacuum—an unnecessary one, since candidates acceptable to both sides have been there for the choosing all along, notably Haruhiko Kuroda, head of the Asian Development Bank. By not putting him forward, Mr Fukuda showed himself unable and unwilling even to _pick up the phone to the opposition_.

_Pick up the phone to_? What’s that?

A cursory examination of google search results indicates that this seems to be a UK and Australian thing to say. If it happens in America, I’ve certainly never heard it. It’s a nice example of a multiword expression. What’s interesting is that it’s a communication verb that incorporates the means of communication (like _phone_, _fax_, _email_, and _write_) but which, perhaps due to syntax of the words in the expression, requires the person called to be expressed with the preposition _to_ (like _talk_, _speak_, and _write_).

(yes, _write_ goes in both places: _I write (letters) to my aunt every week_, but _I write my uncle every month_)


Just a few random thoughts as I was reading over something I wrote.

Out of context, something like “he’s a speaker” makes no sense, or at least requires a bunch more imagination to make sense of it. Could be that “speaker” is a title (like, “of the house”), but barring that, it’s really quite different from something like “he’s a swimmer.” Probably because we usually expect people to speak, but not necessarily to swim (but again, that can’t be quite right, because we usually expect people to be able to run, but “she’s a runner” is fine as a way to introduce someone, but “she’s a walker” is not. Maybe because “he’s a swimmer” (and “she’s a runner”) usually means that s/he swims/runs professionally, or at least competitively. Can you say “he’s a speaker” to mean his profession is giving speeches and lectures? Seems odd at best If you add an informative adjective like “traveling” or “political” maybe it improves).

But then consider what happens with certain adjectives:

> She’s a good speaker.

Here, she’s probably an orator or speech-giver. Plausible as part of an introductory description of someone. (“You should meet Sue. She’s a great speaker.” But strange: “…She’s a speaker.”)

> She’s a native speaker.

This is interesting, because this requires a context where the addressee can figure out what language “she” is a native speaker of. In fact, in this usage, _speaker_ has an optional PP-_of_ complement (“she is a native speaker of Japanese”). Not so for “she’s a good speaker”. We don’t say (usually) that someone is “a good speaker of lectures/speeches/addresses/…”.