as cross and bossy as only a very small boy can be

HolyUnicorn

Senior Member
Mandarin / the Shanghai Dialect
Hello Everyone:

"Charles Wallace went up to her. “I really don’t think you ought to have taken Mrs. Buncombe’s sheets without consulting me,” he said, as cross and bossy as only a very small boy can be. “What on earth do you want them for?" From A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

Could you help me understand the part in bold? Does this imply that only a small boy can be cross and bossy at the same time?
 
  • grassy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    It means that his behavior resembled that of a very small boy because only very small boys can be as cross and bossy as Charles Wallace was.
     

    HolyUnicorn

    Senior Member
    Mandarin / the Shanghai Dialect
    It means that his behavior resembled that of a very small boy because only very small boys can be as cross and bossy as Charles Wallace was.
    Thanks a lot, Grassy. I got a sense of what the writer is saying from your explanation. However, this still tests my logic. What does the writer imply here? Charles Wallace is the most cross and bossy of small boys?
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Charles Wallace is a young boy. It means that he was cross and bossy, as only young boys like himself can be.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    It's actually ambiguous.

    1) It could mean "only small boys can be cross and bossy".

    2) It could mean "only small boys can be cross and bossy" in that specific way.

    I think 1) is unrealistic. Adults could be cross and bossy. I think it means 2). The exact manner of his behavior of acting cross and bossy could only be done by a small boy - because he's a small boy and carries himself a certain way an adult can't.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    this still tests my logic. What does the writer imply here? Charles Wallace is the most cross and bossy of small boys?
    He was cross and bossy, as only a very small boy can be.​

    It’s a common turn of phrase (not meant too literally) relating to a characteristic, or a way of doing something, that the listener/reader would recognise as being typical of a certain kind of person:

    Conservation of our meagre cash reserves devoured my parents’ time and sapped their energy, as only those who have lived close to poverty would understand.
    You will learn to appreciate each other, as only someone who has had a baby can.
    The lunchtime crowd savored their meals as only the French do.​
     
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