I'm reading The Fermented Man by Derek Dellinger. He talks about U.S. government's regulations about cheese making. For example, cheese can be sold to the public only if it's been aged a minimum of sixty days. Then he says:

The government’s thinking here seemed fairly sound. One can always assume a little extra buffer of paranoia built in when it comes to anything related to public health, but sixty days of fermentation, two solid months, I didn’t think that sounded unreasonable.

I'm confused about the part in bold. I looked up the definitions of assume, buffer, paranoia and built in. But I still couldn't figure out what it means. The sentence just seems very indirect to me. Can anybody explain its meaning for me?

  • Assume can take an object complemented by a to-infinitive predicate, or it can take a that-clause with a finite verb. Can we assume the train to be on time? Can we assume that the train is on time? In the quoted passage, it is the former, with [to be] elided before the adjective formed from the past-participle of the phrasal verb: "built-in". ...assume a little extra buffer of paranoia [to be] built in. Paraphrased: assume [that] a little extra buffer of paranoia is built in.
    – TimR
    Aug 1, 2017 at 11:33
  • Compare: Consider it done.
    – TimR
    Aug 1, 2017 at 12:45

3 Answers 3


A buffer is a device that provides some protection in case something goes wrong. Governments often add protective measures ("buffers") into legislation related to different products and services. Such legislative "buffers" are often paranoid, i.e. they are poorly justified. Just because something theoretically might go wrong, the government adds (builds in) a buffer in the legislation.

The author says: "okay, it's not a surprise that there's this protective buffer in the legislation concerning the dairy industry. Such buffers are often paranoid. However, in this particular case, the buffer is justified. Why not let cheese sit and ferment for a couple of months, and thus ensure its safety?"


This phrase is a little confusing, let's break it down:

1) One can always assume...

Here, "one" is being used as a pronoun, to describe a person, the subject of the sentence. In this case, the person who is doing the assuming, whether that be the speaker, the listener, or some other person. The meaning of the sentence doesn't change in any case.

The author is saying that one can always assume something. This means that something is true often enough that it is a "safe bet". It might not be true, but it probably is. Consider: "You can always assume that winter will be cooler than summer."

2) ...a little extra buffer...

A buffer, in this context, is a deliberate excess added to account for problems that may arise. This is often described as "padding" an estimate. For example, you expect work to take four hours, but you promise to complete it in six, so that you have a buffer in case something goes wrong.

In this case, "a little extra" means that there is more of a buffer than one would normally expect.

3) ...of paranoia...

In this case, our buffer is due to paranoia, an overwhelming or irrational fear. This is used here as a more intense version of caution. For instance, looking both ways before crossing a street is reasonable caution, but refusing to cross an empty road without a vehicle is paranoia.

4) ..built in...

In this case, the author is describing the action of adding the buffer to what follows. When you pad an estimate, you are building in a buffer.

So, to rephrase the statement:

It is a reasonable guess that in matters of public health, authorities will increase their estimates out of excessive caution. However, sixty days of fermentation still seems reasonable.


Those are the definitions taken from the Collins Online Dictionary:

A buffer is something that prevents something else from being harmed or that prevents two things from harming each other.

Build in - to incorporate or construct as an integral part

Paranoia - informal intense fear or suspicion, esp when unfounded

The "paranoia" is part of the (built in) the health measures. There is a buffer (something used to avoid harm) because people can be harmed by low quality cheese.

So the sentence means that it´s expected one will be extra careful when specifying public health measures because people can be harmed, but sixty days of fermentation, two solid months, were an excessive caution.

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