Hello everyone. I am reading a novel, and I came across this expression. Could you please let me know its meaning?
I went back to 105th Street to go over last night’s footsteps. I didn’t know why I was doing it, just as I didn’t know why I trundled down the same area so many times last night. But last night everything seemed shrouded in a spectral fog behind which I took cover, the better not to see the void looming before me. Last night I knew I was a shattered being. Today, I didn’t feel shattered at all. Things must be getting better, I thought, I must be healing and already getting over the hardest part. How fickle the human heart. I was almost about to take myself to task for being so frivolous when I suddenly caught sight of her window. I was jolted by an overwhelming sense of panic. It told me that the wound I thought was already healing hadn’t even been thoroughly inflicted yet, which was why it didn’t hurt so much. The knife wasn’t all the way in yet, things hadn’t started getting worse.
- André Aciman, Eight White Nights, Seventh Night
This is a novel published in the United States of America in 2010. This novel is narrated by the nameless male protagonist who meets Clara at a Christmas party in Manhattan. The protagonist, after walking Clara home, is walking around her neighborhood, thinking.
In this part, I wonder what the underlined expression means.
I am confused as to whether "task" here is a noun or a verb... And I just have no idea what it means to "take oneself to task, for being so frivolous", so I wanted to ask you. o_O
Thank you very much for your help.
"To take someone to task (for/over something)" is a fixed expression. It means "to criticize or speak angrily to someone for something that they have done wrong" ( https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/task?q=task_1 ). Cambridge is good for expressions.
"Task" is a noun here, or at least that is how I've always construed it. The whole expression sounds like some sort of fossilized form from the distant past, so our modern ears can't really parse it, especially that "to". The oldest citation in the OED is from 1549. The idea is that someone has done something wrong, and you take them on as a job (task) to scold them.
The writer finds that he is not as emotional about last night's events as he expected, and he sees that as being frivolous, not giving sufficient weight to something important. He starts to have self-critical thoughts (take himself to task) when panic strikes.
It is an idiom, so hard to classify. I assume a noun.
There are many similar idioms:
Thank you so much for the detailed explanation and the link!
Oh, I didn't know that "take someone to task" is a fixed expression! I learned a new thing all thanks to you. And "task (=job)" here is a noun! It means "to criticize someone, as if criticizing that someone is the criticizer's job".
So the narrator was almost about to "criticize himself angrily, for behaving in a frivolous way", but just then he caught sight of her window, and refrained from criticizing himself just in time.
Here, "being frivolous" means that he is failing to give enough emotional importance to the last night's events. He is being light and indiscreet in his opinion.
I truly appreciate your help, for letting me understand.