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Thread: flat = exactly?

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    #1

    flat = exactly?

    Why do we use "flat" to mean "exactly" or "and no more", as in "He finished the race in 4 minutes flat" or "I'll be there in nothing flat"? What is "flat" about an exact time span?

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    #2

    Re: flat = exactly?

    * Not a teacher

    Flat means that the track is plain (no hurdles, no uphill/downhill etc.). (1st example)

    Sorry, I might have misinterpreted your question, I was a little bit confused by the context.
    Last edited by SirGod; 23-Dec-2011 at 13:04.

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    #3

    Re: flat = exactly?

    Quote Originally Posted by wwvusa View Post
    Why do we use "flat" to mean "exactly" or "and no more", as in "He finished the race in 4 minutes flat" or "I'll be there in nothing flat"? What is "flat" about an exact time span?
    Because that is one of its meanings.
    Last edited by 5jj; 23-Dec-2011 at 23:09. Reason: typo

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    #4

    Re: flat = exactly?

    Quote Originally Posted by wwvusa View Post
    Why do we use "flat" to mean "exactly" or "and no more", as in "He finished the race in 4 minutes flat" or "I'll be there in nothing flat"? What is "flat" about an exact time span?
    I think entry 5 here provides some insight into this - Flat | Define Flat at Dictionary.com. I mean, in a way "flat" does mean "exactly" - you are just talking about its figurative meaning vs. literal.

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    #5

    Re: flat = exactly?

    Quote Originally Posted by catbert View Post
    I think entry 5 here provides some insight into this -...(link removed).... I mean, in a way "flat" does mean "exactly" - you are just talking about its figurative meaning vs. literal.
    I accept that words take on extended meanings through figurative and metaphorical usage. What I'm curious about is how the basic meaning of "flat" came to be associated with 'precision' or 'exactness', and particularly in relation to time span or duration. I've never heard it applied to quantity of space or number (*I paid five dollars flat.* / *From here to there is two miles flat.*) Why just time, and how does 'flatness' relate to time, and what aspect of flatness aids my understanding of precision or exactness?

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    #6

    Re: flat = exactly?

    I believe it comes from volume versus time measurements in some industry in which piles were made. A flat bushel of grain, or a flat vessel of sand, is more exact than a hilly shaped pile. Perhaps in sand timers the term was expanded to include time measurements, and then the other volume measures fell out of general public use. In French, the equivalent is "cinq heures pile" or "Five o'clock 'pile'" meaning flat, or exact.

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    #7

    Re: flat = exactly?

    Quote Originally Posted by konungursvia View Post
    I believe it comes from volume versus time measurements in some industry in which piles were made. A flat bushel of grain, or a flat vessel of sand, is more exact than a hilly shaped pile. Perhaps in sand timers the term was expanded to include time measurements, and then the other volume measures fell out of general public use. In French, the equivalent is "cinq heures pile" or "Five o'clock 'pile'" meaning flat, or exact.
    Thanks. The French origin is very plausible, and your imagery reminded me of the cooking term "level" as in "1 level teaspoon", implying precision and exactness. Merci.

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    #8

    Re: flat = exactly?

    I think the same. In that case it states that it lasted exactly 4 minutes.

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    #9

    Re: flat = exactly?

    Quote Originally Posted by wwvusa View Post
    Why do we use "flat" to mean "exactly" or "and no more", as in "He finished the race in 4 minutes flat" or "I'll be there in nothing flat"? What is "flat" about an exact time span?
    The "4 minutes flat" has been covered but I'm surprised no-one has mentioned "I'll be there in nothing flat". I have never heard that usage at all. If I were telling someone that I would arrive very quickly, or in a very short period of time, I would say "I'll be there in no time at all". I have never heard your example.

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    #10

    Re: flat = exactly?

    Probably means the same as "I'll be there pronto.'
    '

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