One of Truman Capote's short stories, The Thanksgiving Visitor, starts with "Talk about mean! Odd Henderson was the meanest human creature in my experience. "

I take it that the "mean" in the exclamatory sentence is a collective adjective referring to a group of mean people, but shouldn't collective adjectives be always preceded by "the"? If yes, what could be the reason for the author's omitting it? If no, what may be the cases when "the" could be omitted before a collective adjective?

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    "Talk about fast! I was in and out of the dentist's chair in under 10 minutes." A colloquial construction, roughly in the same register as "Believe you me". Aug 29 '17 at 11:41

Talk about mean!

In this case, mean is not what you call a 'collective adjective'—that is, an adjective employed as a noun designating the entire set of entities which can be characterized as 'mean'.

It should be understood as a mention of the word mean employed as a topic of discourse. You may paraphrase:

Let me give you a definitive example of appropriate use of the word mean!


"Talk about" here could be paraphrased as "how" (in the exclamatory rather than interrogative usage of that word).

"How mean!" or "how mean he is!" would have a similar meaning.

(When followed by a noun, it might be paraphrased as "what".)

Definitions are here (though they do little to elucidate the grammar):



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