I cannot understand the meaning of the phrase:

You get that much because that’s how much you get

It means: you receive that much because you receive that much?!

Like: Why A? Because A.

The full text is here:

The bishop and I were still meeting every Sunday. Robin had told him that I hadn’t bought my textbooks for the semester. “This is ridiculous,” he said. “Apply for the grant! You’re poor! That’s why these grants exist!” [...]He had printed out the application forms, which he gave to me. “Think about it. You need to learn to accept help, even from the Government.” I took the forms. Robin filled them out. THE FORMS SAT ON my desk for a week before Robin walked with me to the post office and watched me hand them to the postal worker.It didn’t take long, a week, maybe two [...]the mail came [...]I tore open the envelope and a check fell onto my bed. For four thousand dollars. I felt greedy, then afraid of my greed. There was a contact number. I dialed it. “There’s a problem,” I told the woman who answered. “The check is for four thousand dollars, but I only need fourteen hundred.”The line was silent. “Hello? Hello?” “Let me get this straight,” the woman said. “You’re saying the check is for too much money? What do you want me to do?” “If I send it back, could you send me another one? I only need fourteen hundred. For a root canal.” “Look, honey,” she said. “You get that much because that’s how much you get. Cash it or don’t, it’s up to you.” Educated, Tara Westover (2018)

  • 2
    One used to have a different pronoun to distinguish "generic you" from "specific you"... – Toby Speight Jun 4 at 17:27
up vote 45 down vote accepted

It's a cyclic, self-referential explanation, like "Why?" "Because".

He applied for a grant.
The grant is $4,000.
They sent him $4,000 because that's how much the grant is.
His need for only $1,400 is irrelevant, certainly to the people who made the grant.

"You get $4,000 because that's how much the grant is, $4,000"
is equivalent to

“You get that much because that’s how much you get."

  • 8
    I think this is correct. I also think there's an implication of apathy on the part of the speaker. – Scott Beeson Jun 4 at 15:34
  • 8
    Similar meaning to "It is what it is" - it's a way of expressing, in some sense, that the situation is beyond the speaker's control. – J... Jun 4 at 15:48
  • 1
    The phrasing in question certainly could be as tautological as "it is what it is". It also could represent a shift in the sense of at least one of the words involved. Others have already noted the possible shift from a personal you to a generic you. Yet another possibility could be paraphrased as "you receive that much because that is how much you are due" -- a shift in the sense of "to get". As I read it, it feels very similar to another question on this site. – Gary Botnovcan Jun 4 at 21:55
  • @ScottBeeson: I wouldn't call it apathy. I would call it a veiled way of expressing that the other person should not be expecting (nor asking) to get more, since they're not part of the decision process (of what amount one should get). It's effectively communicating that they don't get to ask for more (or less). – Flater Jun 5 at 6:49
  • 1
    @J...: "It is what it is" suggests that the situation is beyond the speaker's control. "You get what you get" suggests that the situation is beyond the other person's control (the speaker may or may not have control over the situation). The same can actually apply to "it is what it is" as well (both phrases could be used for e.g. a prison guard telling an inmate that this is the amount of food he'll get, end of story). – Flater Jun 5 at 6:51

The key point about this superficially "weird" construction, as pointed out by a comment from @bukwyrm, is that it's effectively wordplay (an affectation for effect, as bukwyrm calls it).

The first you (you get [whatever]) specifically refers to the person being addressed, but the second (that's what you get) is a "generic" reference - equivalent to anyone / everyone [who applies for and receives the grant], because the amount of the grant is constant for everyone.

For example, if two men are talking about a (female) friend whose marriage is on the rocks because her husband is a spendthrift, one might say to the other That's what you get if you marry a man with no money sense. Putting aside the fact that the other man in the conversation could now marry such a man in several countries, that's obviously not what's intended. You in such contexts just means anybody.


Note that although I'm pretty sure the "quirkiness" is intentional in OP's cited context, the usage is so idiomatically established that I don't think either the writer or the average reader would see anything particularly unusual about the "flip-flopping pronouns" in this written instance...

He did it because that's what you do if you're going to exist in the physical universe.
(italics mine)

  • 11
    I don't think this is correct in context. The character applied for a grant, which presumably could be for various amounts. Whoever the grant reviewers were decided they should get $4000 rather than the requested $1400, but there's no indication that $4000 is a standard amount. – 1006a Jun 3 at 17:57
  • 1
    There's no indication at all as to what amount they applied for. They merely applied for 'a grant'. But I really don't get that the entire meaning could be based on an odd usage of the word 'you'. That really doesn't ring to me at all, tbh. – Tetsujin Jun 3 at 18:40
  • 4
    @1006a: That is not inconsistent with this answer. Presumably, anyone in similar circumstances who filed equivalent paperwork would have received $4000, because (we hope) the grant process is impartial. – Kevin Jun 3 at 21:08
  • @1006a: I wouldn't stake my life on it, so I did "hedge" my assertion by saying I'm pretty sure the "quirkiness" is intentional in OP's cited context (not absolutely sure). But I note that the author is Oxbridge-educated, and thus imho extremely unlikely to have written such a quirky sequence by accident. You might not agree that this mildly amusing juxtaposition (first you = addressee-specific, second = generic) was intended, but that's certainly what I think. And if I'm right, it more or less follows by definition that $4000 is a standard amount. – FumbleFingers Jun 4 at 12:19
  • Fairly certain the Oxbridge-educated are known to speak colloquially and informally along with the rest of the hoi polloi. There's also nothing definitional about the amount; it's as likely that the apathetic agent was just telling her she got whatever was standard for her situation (still generic you), according to her application and their criteria. – lly Jun 5 at 4:09

The person on the phone is surprised that anyone would call to complain about getting too much money. She doesn't want to deal with reducing the amount of money. She doesn't want to investigate why he gets $4000 when he only needs $1400.

So when asked about it she gives a meaningless reason:

You receive $4000 because $4000 is what you receive.

It suggest that she doesn't know or care why he gets $4000. It is just a fact that he should accept.

Compare a mother telling her child

You have to go to school because school is where you have to go.

It is meaningless, but it shuts down debate.

  • 3
    I think you're missing the key point in @bukwyrm's comment to the question (which is at least "sorta" covered by Tetsujin's answer). The first you (you get [whatever]) specifically refers to the person being addressed, but the second (that's what you get) is a generic reference equivalent to anyone / everyone [who applies for and receives the grant], because the amount of the grant is constant for everyone.. – FumbleFingers Jun 3 at 13:23
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers Could you please extend your comment to an answer? – Peace Jun 3 at 14:59
  • 1
    @Peace he shouldn't do that because his answer is not a complete one. There is a potential subtext to it that he misses, or fails to state. The assumption that recipient is getting an equal share is not always the case. – bigbadmouse Jun 4 at 8:55
  • @JamesK This is a small thing, but the author of the book, Tara Westover, is a woman. I'd edit myself, but I don't feel like I could avoid an unclear pronoun antecedent while keeping the general style of your post. – Strants Jun 5 at 15:14

In addition to the fine answers already given, two further connotations:

  • This is dismissive and slightly rude, with an undertone of "shut up and go away." It is, as @JamesK said, intended to shut down debate.
  • The speaker doesn't make the rules, and is just parroting them back from a rulebook (written or unwritten.)

Examples:

From https://kylieslavik.com/about/ :

I learned how to tell a story that moves a crowd in under three minutes. (Because that’s what you get in a poetry slam, three minutes.)

A poetry slam is a performance format where a series of artists get up on stage to perform poems or other spoken word art, often modern innovative formats.

Fron song lyrics to Hundred Reasons:

So what if you turn your back

If talking's a waste of our time you would leave us only the more upset

Because that's what you get

Without the circular reference it can also be a simple reference to an immutable fact, such as

This barbecue chef:

LG: You cook it. You got to love the smoke, if you don’t love the smoke, don’t mess with it. [Laughter] Because that’s what you get every time you open this pit: check your briskets, all that smoke hits your face, and you like that, you gonna make, you gonna be a good barbecue man. Because that’s what it takes.

In addition to the good answers above, another famous example you might like to compare to is that of Pontius Pilate described in the Gospel of John. When the Jewish priests object to Pilate's inscription on the sign to be hung above Jesus's cross, he replies to them "What I have written, I have written" (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quod_scripsi,_scripsi). Treated formally, this is a tautology which conveys almost nothing. However, it carries a clear meaning of "I will not change what I have written". Your example, in a very different context, has similar overtones.

other people have done research to conclude that the average root canal at an average dentist for an average person will cost an average of $4,000. So those researchers have made a decision that anyone who applies for a grant for a root canal operation shall be granted, (same as "they will be granted", or "they will get") the sum of $4,000 for the operation. If the recipient can find a dentist who can do the operation for less, then they make a profit, like getting change from the $4,000.

  • Its not a complete answer to the question and people above said it more concisely, in my humble opinion. As @Tᴚoɯɐuo says, there's a whole world of emotions that could drive that statement. – bigbadmouse Jun 5 at 7:56

You get that much because that's how much you (impersonal you, that is, anyone who has applied for this grant) receive (per the grant's terms or its need calculations or face value, whatever).

P.S. This kind of tautological remark is fairly common. Such statements usually express the idea that it is futile or even foolish to question, or to try to change, what cannot be changed.

Compare: It is what it is.

  • 2
    it can be more complicated than that, as @arp observes – bigbadmouse Jun 4 at 8:53
  • 2
    @bigbadmouse: Any number of emotions and contexts could produce such a statement. It could be exasperation and impatience. The speaker might be handling hundreds of calls from people who are upset that they did not get a grant and might have no time to deal with someone who doesn't understand how the grant works and who received more than they felt they needed. The statement that begins with Look honey could be sweet or sour, gentle or caustic. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 4 at 10:22
  • I completely agree, but you don't say that in your proposed answer. So it can be, as I said (since we are trying to help learners of English) much more complicated than telling someone you're just following the rules/that's what the computer said etc. – bigbadmouse Jun 5 at 7:53

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.