Richard/Rachel,

I'm beginning to think that I've been using the question, "What do you mean?" wrongly, all my life.

I've been using it to respond to any situation where I wanted someone to further explain what he or she had said.

For instance, if Joe said to me, "You can't trust Rick", I would say, "What do you mean?" If Bubba says, "That's silly, Gilbert!", I would also respond with "What do you mean?". If Jack says, "It's not working out between Jill and me," I would still say, "What do you mean, Jack?"

Should my correct response be "How do you mean?" instead of "What do you mean?". I'm asking this because I recently discovered that "What do you mean?" is used to show ANNOYANCE ONLY.

Please tell me that the dictionary is wrong!

Thank you.
Gilbert
Original Post
That's good, Izzy, to find the exact meaning of 'How do you mean,' which of course means 'In what way is this true?'

'What do you mean' can also mean the same thing. It's true that it can be said to express annoyance, but it is all in the tone. If you say, 'What do you mean?' in a friendly way, it is not hostile or challenging; it merely indicates that you want more information.
quote:
It's true that it can be said to express annoyance, but it is all in the tone.


Phew...! So I've been absolved of my sins! Thanks, Rachel.

Richard... that U.K/U.S thing... are you sure that the English say "How do you mean?" as I've never really heard anyone say it on British TV programmes or elsewhere. Otherwise I would have picked up on it.

To tell the truth, Richard, I was thrown into this abyss of confusion when I heard this question a couple of days ago on an American TV series called 'Without a Trace' where an FBI agent asks a murder suspect whether he and his brother were close, and the suspect replied, "How do you mean?". That sent me running to the dictionary!

Terima kasih.
Gilbert
quote:
where an FBI agent asks a murder suspect whether he and his brother were close, and the suspect replied, "How do you mean?".

Hello, again, Gilbert:

This line means "In what way were you thinking we were close?" The suspect must have said this very defensively. The suspect could have just as easily said, "What do you mean?" The two phrases might have been said in the same tone of voice, defensively here but in other contexts, aggressively.
Hi, Rachel.

So both phrases can be used interchangeably, right? The suspect could have merely asked, "What do you mean?" in a very inquiringly, smiley kind of way or he could have been aggressive/defensive/annoyed and said, "What do you mean, close? I hate his guts!" ... or something like that.

So, I have not really been using it wrongly, then, Rachel.

Thanks a million.
G
They're definitely interchangeable, my friend, and yes, I'm sure How do you mean? is much more commonly heard in the UK than in the US. I've been to the UK several times over the years, mostly staying with British friends there, and can vouch for hearing that question. In fact, I don't ever recall hearing a Briton ask What do you mean.

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