Decontextualized positive "that"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Nov 1 16:35:28 UTC 2013

We've long been familiar with statements like this:

1. "Tweedledum wasn't that smart."

Idiomatically, it means he wasn't very smart at all. Presumably the usage
developed from cases where the level of stupidity was specified by context:

2. "First the thief altered his fingerprints. Then he shaved half his full
beard so witnesses would be divided on whether he was bearded or not. I
suspect Tweedledum."

"Sounds more like Tweedledee. Tweedeldum isn't that smart."

For a number of years, however, I've been hearing a decontextualized
positive that, but today's example was so diagnostic that it prompted this

Andrew Cuomo on CNN New Day:

3. "I don't get it [viz., the point of a billboard]. For me it's gotta be
*that* obvious." [Emphasis in original.]

In other words, extremely obvious.

Don't whine that it isn't new. It's just relatively new.

BTW, I can recall an elderly colleague (b. ca 1905) observing in the mid
'70s that even statements in the form of ex. 1 were a recent development.


"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society -

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