AE/BE "quite" That was quite good.

panjandrum

Lapsed Moderator
English-Ireland (top end)
That was quite good.

As a matter of observation it seems to me that this phrase carries a range of different meanings in different countries and cultures.

If someone described something I had done as "quite good" I might be somewhat annoyed.

Quite good indeed!
QUITE GOOD!!
What was wrong with simple compliments like truly wonderful, fantastic, uniquely brilliant?
Quite good indeed...... So, where did I go wrong?
Pah.

Is this a personal foible,
a local eccentricity,
a national characteristic,
or.....

<<This thread has been merged with another thread on the same topic started by Le Pamplemousse>>
 
  • James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    Panjandrum,
    Are you referring here to the dual meaning of "quite" as a qualifier, in British English at any rate, i.e. "rather" Vs "very". In this respect, "quite good" may mean "rather good" (= "not bad after all" = "moderately good"); or it can mean "very good" (= almost "excellent"). I suppose it would depend on the context, the tone of voice, etc. I believe it is generally considered that the former meaning (= rather) is now dominant.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Well, if the negative tinge in "quite good" is more than a personal foible or a local eccentricity, it sure doesn't reach as far as my neck of the woods. I don't see a trace of a quibble. I suppose an overly surprised tone in the delivery might hint that "good" was beyond anyone's expectations.

    I have a similar problem with "no problem" as a way of saying "you're welcome," and this might be in the same category.
     

    You little ripper!

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    James Brandon said:
    Panjandrum,
    Are you referring here to the dual meaning of "quite" as a qualifier, in British English at any rate, i.e. "rather" Vs "very". In this respect, "quite good" may mean "rather good" (= "not bad after all" = "moderately good"); or it can mean "very good" (= almost "excellent"). I suppose it would depend on the context, the tone of voice, etc. I believe it is generally considered that the former meaning (= rather) is now dominant.
    I agree with you James. I must say, tho', that if it was said to me in a flat tone, I would immediately think that it wasn't brilliant, fabulous etc. I think it has a lot to do with someone's standards. I'm a perfectionist with most things, so unless it is excellent, brilliant, fantastic etc., it wouldn't be good enough for me. :(
     

    Tamlane

    Member
    English, Canada
    I would consider the use of the term on par with 'really good' or 'excellent'. I can't see the problem. I suppose that if there were a problem to be seen by someone, the use of the term 'quite' as a qualifier would have to be considered incorrect in that instance. I would hazard to say it might be considered 'snooty', 'pompous', 'sarcastic', or something similar.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I have the impression that the duality of "quite good" meaning either "very good" or "moderately good" (which would usually carry the nuance of "could have been better") that James talks about is a British only distiction in this specific context - for AE speakers it is only praise.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    timpeac said:
    I have the impression that the duality of "quite good" meaning either "very good" or "moderately good" (which would usually carry the nuance of "could have been better") that James talks about is a British only distiction in this specific context - for AE speakers it is only praise.
    I second that opinion.
    .
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    As James Brandon and Timpeac have pointed out, there is a BE-only duality of meaning for quite. Further investigation suggests that in BE, quite used with gradable adjectives usually means somewhat, fairly, moderately - hence my reservations about quite good. With adjectives that aren't normally gradable it usually means completely, totally - for example quite excellent.

    Of course this is a reflection of usage, not the application of a rule, so the meaning of quite in any situation depends on how it's said, or a combination of context and experience.

    This does not cause difficulties for any of us in our native context, but it obviously has the potential to create misunderstanding between AE & BE speakers - the AE-speaker being very complimentary and the BE-listener feeling he has been damned with faint praise:p The BE-speaker giving a very qualified endorsement and the AE-listener thinking the BE-speaker's judgement is seriously impaired:D
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    panjandrum said:
    This does not cause difficulties for any of us in our native context, but it obviously has the potential to create misunderstanding between AE & BE speakers - the AE-speaker being very complimentary and the BE-listener feeling he has been damned with faint praise:p The BE-speaker giving a very qualified endorsement and the AE-listener thinking the BE-speaker's judgement is seriously impaired:D
    Boy howdy! What strikes me as funny here is, the use of "quite" and "raw-thuh" is common, indeed almost de rigueur, in the popular AE pastime of mock-brit serio-farcico-pomposity.

    Eau yess, that was rawther pompous. Indeed, it was quite rawther pompous, quite rawther poncily pompous indeed.

    Could be we're missing a nuance or two? Kidding a kidder as it were?
    .
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I have had the mickey taken out of me before now in these very hallowed forums for using "rather" (as a translation of "plutôt" if memory serves) but I can confirm that it is quite usual an utterance in my neck of the woods.

    "that was rather clever of you" would carry the nuance of "moderately to very" but could potentially also suggest "somewhat unexpectedly" clever of you.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    foxfirebrand said:
    Boy howdy! What strikes me as funny here is, the use of "quite" and "raw-thuh" is common, indeed almost de rigueur, in the popular AE pastime of mock-brit serio-farcico-pomposity.

    Eau yess, that was rawther pompous. Indeed, it was quite rawther pompous, quite rawther poncily pompous indeed.

    Could be we're missing a nuance or two? Kidding a kidder as it were?
    .
    I expect that the quite being mocked is "Quite," standing on its own as a statement of appreciation or agreement.
    1976 K. BONFIGLIOLI Something Nasty in Woodshed x. 123 ‘No takers,’ I said. ‘Quite. By the way, I'm sorry to say ‘quite’ all the time but..my work lies amongst Americans and they expect Englishmen to say it.’
    OED
     

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I agree that quite is close enough to very in AE, so it's not an insult by understatement, but I also agree that excellent and wonderful are rather more complementary.
    And I'm quite sure that your efforts were more than adequate. ;)
     

    Philippa

    Senior Member
    Britain - English
    Quite an interesting topic, enough to tempt me into English Only, anyway!!
    Nearly a year ago I posted this thread because we were being described as only 'quite friendly'!! Since then I've been careful to swap the word quite for 'fairly' or 'a bit', especially when I'm writing to Mike, but it has made me realise that I use the word 'quite' almost as often to mean 'completely'.
    Saludos
    Philippa :)
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    panjandrum said:
    By the way, I'm sorry to say ‘quite’ all the time but..my work lies amongst Americans and they expect Englishmen to say it.’
    OED
    Wow-- exactly as I suspected. Quite like the "gooberisms" I'm always mentioning when the subject turns to AE of the dixified variety. A mock-redneck patois that we break out with sometimes to spoof any outsiders present. It's kind of like shibboleths but in reverse, where we lard the conversation with "reckon" and other words you hear in movies and TV shows when a "Southern" character walks onto a northern stage.

    Act out the stereotype with a wink perceptible only to other real Southerners, and the people who nod along and take you at face value are identified as the aliens. You don't get the outsiders to mispronounce the shibboleth, you mispronounce it yourself and see if they notice.

    As Mr Spock would say, utterly fascinating-- speaking of aliens. Hmmm...who else around here says that a lot?

    I recently talked about jive, and the most recent hiphop concoctions, as lingo made up in part for the purpose of having fun with white folks. So you Brits do do it too! Wily bahstids, wot?
    .
     

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    It is interesting to realise from this Thread that "quite" exclusively means "very" in AE, and that the - less enthusiastic - meaning of "rather"/"moderately" is identified by Americans as purely BE. One can only conclude that Americans get confused by Britons talking to them much of the time, but we knew this already, after all. The thing about British English, also, I believe, is that very few British speakers say what they mean and mean what they say. This can be linked to humour (also of the private joke type) and to politeness. Finally, there is the issue of the under-statement. Eg "The meal was quite good" (if tone of voice is guarded) = "The meal was moderate to poor". "The meal was not that good" = "It was bad". "The meal was quite bad" (where "quite" does mean "rather") = "It was absolutely disgusting". I am not sure Americans understand any of this. I was in the US for the 2nd time in the summer of 2004 (4 weeks across the whole country) and got the impression that communication, in the main, is literal ("au premier degré", in French): say what you mean, and mean what you say, or else no one will understand you - and why would you want to confuse the other party? I am not sure many people in Britain (and in Europe) work along such lines. It is too simple - it's boring, folks! (I am expecting a massive onslaught of a response from N Americans here... It should be quite good, and quite amusing, actually.)
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    James Brandon said:
    The thing about British English, also, I believe, is that very few British speakers say what they mean and mean what they say. This can be linked to humour (also of the private joke type) and to politeness. Finally, there is the issue of the under-statement.
    All of this finds an affinity in Southern AE, where "hospitality" is the set phrase for the "politeness" you mention. The understatement or even paradox employed by you Brits is evolved from a very long tradition I touch on sometimes, and have recently, in my references to "Anglo-Saxon irony."

    Wow, I see in seeking out the thread that I not only referred explicitly to understatement and paradox, but linked this time-honored and peculiarly British type of humor to the American South (at least by including a Stephen Foster tune as an example).

    The two-tiered system of meaning depends on outsiders, an us-vs-them thing that is lacking in the U.S.-- except in the South, which has not only known the only war fought on home soil since the War of 1812, but also knew defeat, and lives with that knowledge to this day.

    Maybe that's why this stuff is called Anglo-Saxon irony and not English or British-- it predates, and survives, the Norman Conquest.
    .
     

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    True, in my - limited - dealings with Americans from the South-Eastern States (Atlanta, La Fayette...), both Black and White, I found that manners were at a premium and that they were rather European in many ways. A few years ago, I took a group of high-school teenage girls from Louisiana on a tour of England. Admittedly, they were from a 'good' Catholic school in the heart of the State, but I was surprised how European their manners could be, at times, while they were still very American in other ways. Overall, they were remarkably well-behaved and low-key, not at all the stereotypical Americans one imagines in the UK. (Maybe they don't exist, or only in one's worst nightmares.) Many had French surnames, and a few knew some French.

    Memorably, in NW England, we were staying in a fairly good hotel and were served beef and Yorkshire pudding. One of the ladies said: "I have never come across a piece of meat like this." The others agreed and said that they had never come across such a smell as that. They declined to eat the meat. One of them said: "In Louisiana, we wouldn't feed that kind of meat to our dogs." There was no understatement there. I ate the main course and thought it was okay, but then again, it's all relative...
     

    Le Pamplemousse

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the 35th or so time earlier tonight, and I noticed something:

    Arthur: You know much that is hidden, O Tim.
    Tim: Quite.

    My understanding of the BE usage of "quite" was that it was used in the sense of "somewhat" or "rather". This usage seems to indicate the AE usage, which is more like "very much so" or "completely. Thoughts?

    I notice new things every time I watch that movie.
     

    cas29

    Senior Member
    Canada/English
    I too am a huge MP fan.

    I'd say that here, Tim is saying "Quite so", meaning: "exactly".

    I would hesitate to separate the AE an BE meanings of quite though.
    I think that on both sides of the ocean quite can have both meanings of "somewhat/rather and "very much so" and you understand the intensity of it based on context and intonation.

    Both in AE and BE you'll hear "It is quite cold today" (not extremely cold, but cold enough to want a jacket or hat maybe). and I believe you'll also hear "You're quite right!" (you are completely right).
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    Quite has many subtexts which require one to hear the question to which it is an answer, the tone of voice of the question, and the tone of voice of the respondant.

    "quite" can mean "you grieviously understate the matter".
     

    mally pense

    Senior Member
    England, UK English
    Arthur: You know much that is hidden, O Tim.
    Tim: Quite.

    My understanding of the BE usage of "quite" was that it was used in the sense of "somewhat" or "rather". This usage seems to indicate the AE usage, which is more like "very much so" or "completely. Thoughts?
    Sorry to come back to this thread so late after it was last dicussed, but it's just been referred to in a new discussion so I became interested.

    Tim's "Quite" here in my opinion is short for "You are quite right", meaning you are completely right. This phrase may also be shortened to "Quite right".

    On the subject of "quite" having a reducing effect (which has already been discussed above), I thought of this example:

    Person A: Do you have a large house?​
    Person B: Well, it's qu-i-te large....​
    The "qu-i-te" here would be spoken with a long drawn out vowel sound rather than the short one that would normally be used (and my hyphens are only there to illustrate this).


    Here's the same question with "quite" giving a completely different meaning to the reply, i,e, with "quite" emphasising rather than diminishing:
    Person A: Do you have a large house?​
    Person B: Yes, it's quite large!​
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Sorry to come back to this thread so late after it was last dicussed, but it's just been referred to in a new discussion so I became interested.

    Tim's "Quite" here in my opinion is short for "You are quite right", meaning you are completely right. This phrase may also be shortened to "Quite right".
    I completely agree - to my mind there is no other interpretation here. In fact, I quite agree!:D
     

    nichec

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    The more I think about it, the more confusing it seems.........

    Nichec is quite pretty---I know you are just being polite, why don't you go ahead and say I am ugly?

    Nichec is quite a looker--Oh, thank you so much :D
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Quite means something like "enough", but it presumes we know to what purpose something is "enough". It means something like "rather", but in writing we have to wonder whether it means the quickly-spoken simple "rather", or the more substantive emphasized "raaather".

    On top of all that, "not quite" clearly (I think) means "almost", but a positive "quite" seems to be used more often than not either for understatement or for hyperbole.
     

    una madre

    Senior Member
    Western Canada English
    To my mind "Quite good" is not a simple compliment. The term generally comes with reservations, for example:

    It was quite good, but...
    Your efforts were quite good, but...
    The meal was quite good, but...
    The performance was quite good, but...
    The meal was quite good, however...
    The performance was quite good, however...
     
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    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    < I quite understand. >

    I thought I understood this - as meaning 'I fullyunderstand', but with kind-of understatement. however, I was reminded of thefact that at least it is American English, and does not really mean 'fully'.

    What is the truth now ? What if something is 'quite true', 'quite right'? Are there any differences between AmE and BrE as for meaning?

    Thanks!


    < Always include the topic sentence in the post itself. Titles may change, as you can see.
    Cagey, moderator. >
     
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    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    (I've merged your question with a previous thread on the subject, Thomas ~ this is a bit of a minefield, see above.)
     

    JustKate

    Moderate Mod
    In the examples you give, "quite" does mean fully to an AmE speaker.
    That's what it means to this particular AmE speaker, too. It means "I completely understand."

    As for the other usages of quite in this thread, all I can say is that context and tone of voice are often essential to understanding its meaning, and yeah, I realize that tone of voice is extremely difficult to convey via writing.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    To this BE speaker, "I quite understand" indicates the speaker's belief that he understands to whatever extent he perceives to be appropriate.
     

    Copperknickers

    Senior Member
    Scotland - Scots and English
    Personally, if I saw the best film I'd ever seen, I'd probably describe it as 'quite good', not because I was using quite in the sense of 'moderately', just because I don't like describing things as awesome or excellent or amazing.
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    That would deprive me of pleasure of seeing the film, I wouldn't feel compelled to go, based on your description....
    How would you describe a film which is quite good?

    Panjandrum's example:
    Why a complete understanding is undesirable?
     

    Copperknickers

    Senior Member
    Scotland - Scots and English
    That would deprive me of pleasure of seeing the film, I wouldn't feel compelled to go, based on your description....
    How would you describe a film which is quite good?
    'Alright I guess'. 'Seen better'. 'Decent'.

    I suppose Brits are a bit more fond of understatement than people from other countries, it's something I had a lot of problems with when I went to Italy and the USA.

    'Do you like pizza?'

    'I don't mind it.'

    'So you don't like it?'

    'No, yes, I don't mind it.'

    'So you'd rather have something else?'

    'I really don't mind pizza.'

    'OK I'll make pasta.'

    ...


    'Did you like the pasta?'

    'It was quite good.'

    'Oh god, you didn't like it?'

    'No really, it was alright.'

    'Only alright?'


    And so on... we're not the most extraverted race.
     

    Copperknickers

    Senior Member
    Scotland - Scots and English
    'A bit more fond.' Do you mean besotted?
    Haha, quite so. Understatement is a fine art. And going back to the topic, I think it is a bit of a national characteristic really.

    Or in American English: 'Yeah dude, awesome! You gotta say what you're thinking. And back on topic, I'm hella certain its a bona fide national characteristic, you bet ya!'
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    OK, but I still don't understand Panjandrum.

    Appropriate is a very binding term, right?
    As far as I can gather, thing go from bad to worse in this order: 1) inappropriate 2) abhorrent 3) un-British
    (only joking, everybody!)
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    1) inappropriate 2) abhorrent 3) un-British
    :cross: No, no!
    "It's still QUITE good" (with the stress on the "quite") <- to describe the state of your car after a friend has crashed it into a wall.
    "It's a little inconvenient that my house has been destroyed in an earthquake.
    "The complete destruction of London by fire was somewhat concerning."
    etc.
    until finally - "It's simply not cricket." <- last used in 1066 AD when the Normans invaded. :D
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    "It's a little inconvenient that my house has been destroyed in an earthquake.
    But would the person say this while crying on the pavement?

    in BE, quite used with gradable adjectives usually means somewhat, fairly, moderately - hence my reservations about quite good. With adjectives that aren't normally gradable it usually means completely, totally
    Understatement is a fine art.
    Aaah! I simply don't want to qualify some things in any way; bad enough I have to use adjectives.
    Hard as I try, I cannot find anything 'quite' about Jude the Obscure.

    Would you please give examples of understatement in Jude.., or in Lady Susan, or in other British classics?

    "It's simply not cricket."
    I love this and use it often, in English and Slovak.
    But not referring to stuff like torture or so. (You can't make me, native speakers!:D)


    (editedd)
     
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    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Aaah! I simply don't want to qualify some things in any way; bad enough I have to use adjectives.
    Hard as I try, I cannot find anything 'quite' about Jude the Obscure.
    Would you please give examples of understatement in there, or in Lady Susan, or in other British classics?
    That's quite a good point. A good writer probably won't use "quite" except in dialogue, because it sounds limp and imprecise. There's the possibility of unwanted ambiguity. I think it ranks up there with "nice" as one of the words our English teachers taught us to avoid. I rather like the American "somewhat", myself.

    In speech we can use tone of voice to show exactly what sort of "quite" we have in mind, and we may want to be deliberately vague.
     

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    I think there are 2 problems here. A specific problem is that 'quite' can mean 'very' ('It was quite good!', sounding convinced and reasonably enthusiastic) or it can mean 'fairly' ('It was quite interesting all in all', sounding a bit blasé and as if one is trying to make an effort and be polite about it). At any rate, in BE, I believe this applies. To know which 'quite' it is, you depend on the context and the person's tone of voice, etc.

    A more general problem is the use of understatements in BE (not in AE), because one is avoiding voicing too direct an opinion, in case it might offend or cause complications. E.g.: "The film was not [too] bad" could mean it was 'average' but could also mean it was pretty 'awful'. This is very difficult to understand for non-native speakers, particularly if they come from a culture where you say things much more directly along the lines of yes/no and like/dislike (e.g.: Latin culture, French culture, Central & Eastern Europe...). Americans are native speakers but also belong to the 'straight-talking' category. In my experience, one nation that understands very well the British way of expressing oneself is the Japanese, which is revealing...

    As for the point made by Panj., he can explain. I suppose he means that 'quite' has to be understood in context and reflects the subjective standpoint of the person talking, up to a point that is appropriate in terms of what he understands, and in terms of how much of that he wants the other person to know (i.e. to understand that he understands). :)
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    'quite' can mean 'very' ('It was quite good!', sounding convinced and reasonably enthusiastic) or it can mean 'fairly' ('It was quite interesting all in all', sounding a bit blasé and as if one is trying to make an effort and be polite about it).
    Thank you for the analysis!!:)
    (To me all the 'quites' sound jokey/sarcastic)

    use of understatements in BE
    Is there a writer using understatement? Hemingway keeps coming to mind, but not BE. I haven't watched much BE TV, keep thinking of Fawlty Towers and BBC Sherlock Holmes, there is no understatement there, is there?
    Edit: I've just thought of Sir Humphrey from Yes, Minister. Is he a good representative of the art of understatement?

    I suppose he means that 'quite' has to be understood in context and reflects the subjective standpoint of the person talking, up to a point that is appropriate in terms of what he understands, and in terms of how much of that he wants the other person to know (i.e. to understand that he understands). :)
    You and Panjandrum are obviously in cahoots.
     
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    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    I've just thought of Sir Humphrey from Yes, Minister. Is he a good representative of the art of understatement?
    Yes! :D Sir Humphrey is the prime example. Isn't there one episode in which he is worried he may loose his job because someone is "a little concerned"?

    Then there is P.G. Wodehouse's creation, Jeeves:

    "Disturbing, sir," says Jeeves, when Bertie Wooster announces that he has inadvertently got engaged to Madeleine Basset, the fiancée from hell.
    "Disturbing, eh, Jeeves? You would go that far, would you?" (From "The Telegraph - Gillian Gibbons: Three cheers for a bit of all right)
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    Thanks for the link, PaulQ!!!

    For me:
    Sir Humphrey: Piffle. (But beautiful to read (couldn't understand a word from TV, had to get the book).)
    Jeeves: Measured. Precise.

    Telegraph's example of Faith being faced bravely, captain Oates in Antarctica:
    "I'm going out now. I may be gone some time."
    Perfection.

    Telegraph's comment on the way (another brave person) worded himself:
    "Quite sublime..."
    Have some respect, Telegraph.
     
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    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    Interesting examples but it is important to understand, as a non-British person, that the art of understatement is a reality in everyday life/ conversation in the UK, which is why Americans are so different from British people in the way they express themselves.

    When a cousin of mine died some years ago here in England, I rang my aunt who was close to him and said I was sorry that he had passed away. She merely said, in a very calm voice: "I am upset." Mind you, she was in her 80s and had been through the Blitz, so, not the kind of person who gushes out and goes all sentimental.
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    it is important to understand, as a non-British person, that the art of understatement is a reality in everyday life/ conversation in the UK, which is why Americans are so different from British people in the way they express themselves.
    I can tell there is a difference from the ways the news are delivered on TV; but it is hard to see it in texts.

    I cannot reconcile how understatement works with the concept of damning with faint praise. Which concept was the first?
    'Did you like the pasta?'
    'It was quite good.'
    This is faint praise, isn't it? If not, what would be?

    PS: Previous examples (movie, pizza etc.) I get, but the mourning sentence you gave I cannot see as an understatement. I'd really hate to see a 'quite' thrown in there.
     
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