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  1. #1
    englishhobby's Avatar
    englishhobby is offline Senior Member
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    Default What do you mean by "mean"?

    If I say He is a mean man / boy / person, which of the several meanings of the word "mean" first comes to the mind of a native speaker? Do I always have to give details? The words unkind, spiteful, or unfare, which are given in dictionaries as almost synonyms (see mean: definition of mean (2) in Oxford dictionary (British & World English) ), seem very different in meaning to me (I do not include here the chiefly British meaning of "not willing to spend money", I just want to know the most typical meaning associated with "mean" personally for each of you.) Is it

    a)unkind
    b)spiteful
    or
    c) unfare
    that first comes to your mind
    If I were a native speaker of English, I would never shut up.)

  2. #2
    emsr2d2's Avatar
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    Default Re: What do you mean by "mean"?

    Quote Originally Posted by englishhobby View Post
    If I say He is a mean man / boy / person, which of the several meanings of the word "mean" first comes to the mind of a native speaker? Do I always have to give details? The words unkind, spiteful, or unfare, which are given in dictionaries as almost synonyms (see mean: definition of mean (2) in Oxford dictionary (British & World English) ), seem very different in meaning to me (I do not include here the chiefly British meaning of "not willing to spend money", I just want to know the most typical meaning associated with "mean" personally for each of you.) Is it

    a)unkind
    b)spiteful
    or
    c) unfare unfair

    that first comes to your mind?
    In the unlikely event that you said to me, with absolutely no context and totally out of the blue, "He is a mean man/boy/person", and assuming that I didn't immediately say "Who is?", my first reaction would be that he was unkind on a regular basis. My second thought would be "Perhaps you meant that the man doesn't like spending money".
    Last edited by emsr2d2; 08-Sep-2013 at 18:44. Reason: typo
    Remember - correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing make posts much easier to read.

  3. #3
    konungursvia's Avatar
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    Default Re: What do you mean by "mean"?

    The word originally meant "average" and "common" and therefore "not very gentlemanly" but evolved over time, especially in AmE, to signify "not nice" or "unkind" in a manner similar to "insensitive" or "uncaring" or even "moderately malicious."

  4. #4
    TomUK is offline Member
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    Default Re: What do you mean by "mean"?

    Not a teacher!

    I am not a native speaker, but without any context I would understand a mean man to be a not very nice person (the wife-beating kind of type). The problem is, what I think you mean could be different from what you meant to mean. Without putting words into some context they can become meaningless, if you know what I mean.

    TomUK

  5. #5
    emsr2d2's Avatar
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    Default Re: What do you mean by "mean"?

    I would have to put a "wife-beating man" in a very different category from "a mean man". Something like "vile, contemptuous, criminal" etc.
    Remember - correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing make posts much easier to read.

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