makes a mean burger, plays a mean horn [mean]


Senior Member
Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
Hi, I've checked with several dictionaries, but couldn't decide which to apply to this use. What does 'mean' here mean? 'Mean' could mean 'excellent' in informal English, but I don't feel comfortable with it here. Is this a type of burger?

RAY: You hungry?
KATE: I'll eat on the train.
RAY: You sure? There's a little place up here that makes a mean burger.
('Lost,' Episode 3, 'Tabula Rasa')

  • HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    The original sense of the word 'mean' is unkind, malicious, angry etc., basically bad. So, is this here used to mean the opposite? Does this come along with any kind of noun?

    (my own example)
    Boy, that's one heck of mean computer you have! It works extremely fast.


    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    A burger can't be "mean" in the literal sense, so it's clear it has the meaning of excellent.
    "He's one mean dude" would mean, well, he's mean, unkind etc.
    "He's one mean football player" would be ambiguous, I suspect.
    "My laptop is kind of wimpy but my desktop is one mean speed demon".

    We wouldn't use "one heck of an XYZ" at the same time as "a mean XYZ" b ecause those expressions mean the same thing - choose one or the other. So, I guess that means no is the answer to your question "Does it come with a noun?" (which I didn't really understand).


    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Oh, okay. Thanks!:)
    In the scene, it was said by an Australian rancher. So I suspect it is an universal slang expression.

    On second thought, maybe I should have said 'go along with' instead of 'come along with.'
    Ah, OK. You're asking if "mean" in this sense can be used with any noun.

    There is no hard and fast rule about when "mean" can be used this way. It tends to be used most often about small things or things that relate to style, taste, fun or - for want of a better word - "coolness." Applying "mean" to something very solemn or grand only works if you're trying to be humorous or irreverent.

    Furthermore, it's a casual expression and works best in colloquial speech or informal writing. "Mean" as a compliment would be out of place in other, more formal, settings.


    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    This usage of 'mean' somehow makes me remember the use of 'bad,' meaning 'good,' as below that was in style when I went to high school in the U.S. in the early 80's.

    This is sooo bad!


    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Hi, just bumped into this. Does this 'mean' mean the same as 'mean' in 'mean burger'?
    Finally tonight on a lighter note --- it is, of course, St. Patrick's Day. ... So, what's your guess? From Dublin, Galway? Nope, Tokyo. ... That's Mr. Otsuka, and his 9-year-old son, Seisuke, who blows a pretty mean horn.
    (ABC World News Tonight March 17, 1999)


    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Have a look at the W R Dictionary for mean:
    1 chiefly Brit. unwilling to give or share things, especially money.
    2 unkind or unfair.
    5 informal excellent.
    There are other adjectives that can have almost contradictory senses
    (antagonyms, auto-antonyms, contranyms) like wicked, chuffed, bad and sick (AE).
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