In Reply to: Re: Too funny by half posted by Brian from Shawnee on January 26, 2010 at 17:34:
: : : : : I cannot find the origin or true meaning of "too funny by half!" Does anyone out there have the answer?
: : : : 'By half' just appears to be an intensifier. I.e. the thing isn't just 'too funny', it is 150% too funny. I've only had a brief scan around reference materials and haven't found anything earlier than an 1895 USA citation of it in print.
: : : It's interesting that the earliest citation is from the U.S. I've only heard (and read) British people say anything "by half", and it's usually "too clever".
: : [I have to differ with Brian from Shawnee; I have heard American speakers say "too [much, or whatever] by half." The Britishism that never has taken hold here is "not half," either by itself or in saying that (for instance) "She isn't half clever!" (Meaning the opposite: she's orffly clever.) - Baceseras.]
: Well OK, just because I've never heard anyone say it doesn't mean nobody says it. However, "too clever by half" is identified by freedictionary.com as "British" (they cite the Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd edition 2006).
: Must be one of those things, like "tarmac" and "gone missing" that have slipped westward across the old pond in this electronic age.
[Well, agreed it would be affectation for an American to say "too clever by half" - Americans scarcely acknowledge cleverness, much less quantify it; but other qualities we do sometimes remark are "too much by half." And if freedictionary lists it as "British," that may be because it's properly slangy when a Brit uses it, while we Yanks seem to believe we're making a close observation. - B.]