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I'm translating Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End, there's a line I don't understand:

"The Problem Is, None Of You Think Nearly Enough." The sound was premium external, like sticking your head inside an old-time boom box.

What does it mean, "the sound was premium external"? as "external" is an adjective, "premium" can't be adjective here, so should be a noun? then as a noun "premium" is referring to money, not able to describe the sound?

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It's a strange sentence, even to a native speaker. You could probably interpret either word as being a noun.

Take for example the phrase "time eternal," which bears a resemblance to your phrase.

[A] time [that is] eternal

It too is often used without an article. In a similar form, your phrase would mean:

The sound was [a] premium [thing that was] external

Though upon first reading, I read it the other way around with "external" as the noun:

The sound was [a] premium external [thing].

The grammatical difference is slight, but the semantics probably amount to the same.

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  • What does premium mean then , to describe a sound?
    – athos
    Oct 20, 2017 at 23:02
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    @athos It doesn't mean a sound, no. See the last sentence; it's a premium external thing, i.e. a rare special thing that comes externally to affect the senses. You just know it means a sound due to the context.
    – Dan
    Oct 21, 2017 at 21:07

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