I read a sentence in "The Hindu" which was:

Instead, the attempt to be clever by half in his affidavit by having the word "regret" in brackets has only landed him in a soup.

Acoording to thefreedictionary.com, "by half" means - An intensifier used to indicate that some quality is excessive or more than is necessary. So it got me into thinking that since "too" has already been used in the idiom, there is no need to use another intensifier (by half). So, I wanted to ask if the "too" in the idiom is redundant?

  • Certainly in UK English you have to say "too clever by half" for the idiom, or just "too clever in his affidavit ..." By half says just how much too clever he was. Indian English might vary. – jonathanjo May 2 '19 at 13:46

Idioms often disrespect the rules of logic, and sometimes, grammar, in order to achieve force. "Too clever", could indeed, stand by itself without the addition of "by half", but the use of the complete idiom is not an error.


"By half" isn't an intensifier, it's a quantifier.

An intensifier would be something like: "you're really too clever." Even that's not redundant; really adds information to the phrase by increasing the intensity.

In any case, the common phrase describes a condition, too clever, and then specifies the amount by which the person is too clever. Not one percent too clever; not 1000 percent too clever, but 50 percent too clever.

It's the same structure as too tall by four inches.

  • 1
    Idioms should not be taken too literally. "Too clever by half" does not mean "exactly 50% too clever". It just means "too clever to an extent that the speaker finds annoying". – Michael Harvey May 2 '19 at 15:37

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