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Catch Me If You Can is about someone who convinces everyone that he can really fly a plane while all along he's just a teenager.

My question is:

What is the difference between "while he's just a teenager" and "while all along he's just a teenager" in terms of meaning?

"All along" means "from the very beginning" according to a dictionary. So I guess "while all along he's just a teenager" might mean that "when he's just a teenager all along". Is that right?

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The phrase all along is often used in contexts where some duplicity or mistaken understanding is involved.

You've been attending our meetings for weeks, and I thought you were interested in the birds that migrate to this area during the winter. But all along you just wanted to get to know Martha so you could ask her out on a date!

This entire time, you have been pretending to be interested in birds, when you're really interested in Martha.

We thought the butler killed the duke. But it was the duchess all along!

We developed a theory that the butler had killed the duke but it turned out that the duchess was the one who had killed him. We were mistaken from the start.

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"All along" is an idiom used about a fact that has been true over a period of time. Equivalents include "since the beginning", "the whole time", "from start to finish". The expression is often used when a false assumption, lasting some time, is exposed as false: I thought she loved me, but I've been fooling myself all along. He told me he was single and took me on dates, but he was married all along. Catch Me If You Can is about a teenager who, over a period of time, convinces everyone that he can really fly a plane, when he can't. On a pedantic note, I will add that teenagers frequently do know how to fly planes; the international minimum age for a powered flight private pilot's license/licence is 17, although training can start at any age.

All along

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    I agree with your definition of all along, but the OP seems be asking about the difference between “while” and “while all along”, which is trickier to explain. Also, in Catch Me If You Can, it’s not the fact that the teenager can fly a plane that’s remarkable, but the fact that he successfully poses as an airline pilot. – J.R. Dec 2 '18 at 14:39
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    ... and all along "he's just a teenager"? – Michael Harvey Dec 2 '18 at 14:45
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    And there were a number of teenage fighter pilots in WWII, including the late President Bush. – jamesqf Dec 2 '18 at 16:57
  • My uncle piloted Avro Lancaster bombers on missions to Kassel, Stuttgart, the Ruhr, and other places in Germany, before he was 20. He was shot down and spent 18 months in a POW camp. – Michael Harvey Dec 2 '18 at 18:16
  • Famously, Thomas Dobney lied about his age to join the RAF at age 14, passed flying training at age 15, and flew 20 missions to Germany at that age during 1942. He was undone when his father, estranged from his mother, saw a photo in a newspaper of him shaking hands with the King. The RAF discharged him for being under age and promised him he could rejoin at 18, which he did – Michael Harvey Dec 2 '18 at 21:00
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In this case, all along is added in primarily for emphasis. It doesn’t really change the meaning of the sentence, but it sharpens the focus of it.

So, if the synopsis read:

Catch Me If You Can is about someone who convinces everyone that he can really fly a plane while he's just a teenager.

that sounds like a basic fact – but it’s devoid of excitement.

However, when we add the words all along, it makes you think more about how odd it would be for a teenager to convincingly play the role of a pilot:

Catch Me If You Can is about someone who convinces everyone that he can really fly a plane while all along he's just a teenager.

I think another way we could accomplish the same thing is to use the phrase even though:

Catch Me If You Can is about someone who convinces everyone that he can really fly a plane even though he's just a teenager.

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    No, because in your last example the implication is that he has informed everyone that he is a teenager. – jmoreno Dec 2 '18 at 21:20
  • @jmoreno - I see what you’re saying, but I guess I’m assuming people are more familiar with Catch Me If You Can. The main character dresses as an airline pilot to cash forged checks at airports, taking advantage of a policy that allowed pilots to cash checks in air terminals. The “convincing” here is not so much that he is able to fly a plane, but that, as a mere teenager, he can pose as a pilot in an airport and pull the ruse off. – J.R. Dec 3 '18 at 10:17
  • My point is that he is not posing as an amazing teenage pilot, he is posing as an ordinary adult pilot. Your last example implies he is posing as the first. ‘He was able to convince people he was passing the course even though he didn’t study’ and ‘He was able to convince people he was passing the course while all along he didn’t study’ are similar, but the nature of the deception is different. – jmoreno Dec 3 '18 at 12:04
  • @jmoreno - It's one thing for an adult to pass himself off as a pilot at an airport. It's even more remarkable when a teenager can pull it off. I'll concede that my last example can be interpreted in more than one way, but I don't think it necessarily means he's informed everyone he's a teenager. I think a better wording might be: Catch Me If You Can is about someone who – even though he's just a teenager – manages to convince everyone that he can really fly a plane. – J.R. Dec 3 '18 at 12:13

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