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In a Facebook post:

They don't come much bigger than this ... Our guest singer this Tuesday tunes is a blue whale. Just click on the link below to hear its song. #BiodiversityMonth

Australian Department of the Environment and Energy, 20 September 2016

In Collins Dictionary:

I like a big challenge and they don't come much bigger than this.

–Collins COBUILD Advanced Learner's Dictionary | 8th ed (En-En), "challenge"

My understanding: This sentence is used for emphasizing something. In the first example, they refers to other whales. In the second example, they refers to other challenges.

Is my understanding correct?

migrated from english.stackexchange.com Aug 11 at 17:34

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    Your understanding is correct. But you should ask these questions on our sister site, English Language Learners. – Dan Bron Aug 11 at 10:20
  • @DanBron New information! – 王文军 or Wenjun Wang Aug 11 at 10:25
  • Actually they refers not to other whales but to other guests. – Xanne Aug 11 at 17:15
  • @DanBron I feel like clicking the close button because although this is an English question, it's so basic I feel it should be asked at ELL. If it gets closed I'm not sure anyone looks at it for migration to another SE site, so I'll just leave it. Also it's not one of the reasons you can pick for closing a question. – Zebrafish Aug 11 at 17:23
  • @Zebrafish - Here's how to do what you had in mind: Vote to close, choose "off topic," then "This question belongs on another site in the Stack Exchange network," then ELL. – aparente001 Aug 11 at 19:17
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It's a joke.

On one hand, it follows the first definition. The phrase 'They don't come much bigger than this.' is adding hype to the guest singer's Tuesday tune.

On the other hand, the 'guest singer' is a blue whale and the Tuesday tune is its whale song. Blue whales are the largest animals ever known to have lived on Earth. (National Geographic: Blue Whale)

So the guest singer is both literally and figuratively something that nothing else comes much bigger than.

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    To make it clearer Kylie Minogue is a "really big singer" in the sense that she has a huge reputation and many devoted fans. This is the sense in which you would normally say that you have a "big guest" on your show, and that "they don't come much bigger than Kylie". However Miss Minogue is physically quite small. The quote about the blue whale is a play on this usage. The individual blue whale is not "a big star" like Kylie, if it has a name no one knows it. However physically it is many times bigger than Kylie so there is the joke. – BoldBen Aug 12 at 1:48
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I would say that you correctly understand the expression, but based on your explanation, you maybe haven't quite understood how it is used in the Facebook post.

In "They don't come much bigger than this ... Our guest singer this Tuesday tunes is a blue whale", the emphasis is on the size of the "guest singer". So the implied comparison would be with other singers (or other guest singers), not with other whales. The sentence doesn't really imply that the guest singer is particularly large for a blue whale (although it is true that the class of blue whales contains the world's largest whales). The point of the sentence is that the guest singer is a really big singer; it's saying something like "Singers don't come much bigger than this" = "Not many singers are bigger than this".

As Jeeped said, there is a play on the literal and metaphorical meanings of the word "big" here.

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