In the following context (From Breakfast at Tiffany's page 87)

I rang California again; the circuits were busy, stayed busy, and by the time O. J. Berman was on the line I’d emptied so many martinis he had to tell me why I was phoning him: “About the kid, is it? I know already. I spoke already to Iggy Fitelstein. Iggy’s the best shingle in New York. I said Iggy you take care of it, send me the bill, only keep my name anonymous, see. Well, I owe the kid something. Not that I owe her anything, you want to come down to it. She’s crazy. A phony. But a real phony, you know? Anyway, they only got her in ten thousand bail.”

I have checked the meaning of 'come down to something' on Webster on-line dictionaryDefinition of come down to it goes like this:

to have (something) as the most important part

What the meaning of the bold sentence in the above text? How should we understand it? who does ‘you’ represent here, O.J. Berman or I?

  • "Not that I owe her anything, you want to come down to it." It's a sentence that means the same as "if you want to know the truth." As in, "The truth is that I owe her nothing." "you" = "I" see the colon which shows the dialogue of O.J. Berman "...he had to tell me why I was phoning him: "About the kid, is it?..." and it ends with the end of the paragraph "...in ten thousand bail." Sep 14, 2016 at 3:00
  • ('if) you want to come down to it' is not a fixed expression. It is clumsy English out in the mouth of OJ Berman, who we know has his own way of speaking. The idiomatic expression is 'come down to' and it means 'amount to', 'to boil down to', 'be equivalent to', 'add up to'. (See Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus: (link.) You refers to the guy that OJ is talking to (the story's narrator). Sep 15, 2016 at 2:59
  • It can be interpreted two ways: either it is the impersonal it, much like it's raining, or it refers to the situation being discussed: whether I owe her or not. Sep 15, 2016 at 3:04

2 Answers 2


This is loose, informal talk, and there is a word missing: in more careful speech, it would be "if you want to come down to it". It means something like "if we are being honest about it".

  • Is "if you want to come down to it" a fixed expression
    – Henry Wang
    Sep 14, 2016 at 1:58

Come down to in the sentence is used with the following meaning:

  • To confront or deal forthrightly: When you come right down to it, you have to admit I'm correct.


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