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In a TV Show I am watching (Doctor Who) there is moment where a character says

There's such a thing as** too keen.

I am wondering what does the "There's such a thing as too [adjective]" mean?

11

Backing up a bit: "there's such a thing as X" means that X exists. "There's no such thing as X" means that X does not exist.

So:

There's such a thing as a zebra, but there is no such thing as a unicorn.

As for "such a thing as too...", it's a way of saying that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. For example, on my fifth birthday I learned that there was such a thing as too much ice cream. Unfortunately, so did the living room carpet. :)

Now, have a look at these:

There's no such thing as too quiet.
There's such a thing as too quiet.

Both of these sentences have the implied assertion that quiet is desirable. However, the first sentence is saying that absolute silence is the speaker's ideal, and the second is saying that while a certain level of quiet is desirable, too much quiet isn't.

  • Thanks a lot for your answer and sorry for the time I took to reply to you ! I understand most of what your told be but it's pretty hard for me to understand what you mean in your example with the ice cream ! Do you mean that there was too much ice cream in your hand and that because of this you made it fall on the carpet ? – Trevör May 21 '14 at 16:30
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    No, it means there was too much ice cream in my stomach and because of this my stomach made it fall on the carpet. (Does that clarify sufficiently?) :) – BobRodes May 21 '14 at 19:00
  • Can I say "there is such thing as zebra" without article in both places? Or is there such a thing as a non-article "such thing"? – Ooker Oct 29 '17 at 18:05
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    @Ooker You would always say "there is such a thing as a zebra" assuming that zebra refers to the animal. If it refers to a pattern of black-and-white stripes, you would omit the article, much in the same form as "there is such a thing as paisley." We don't omit the article between "such" and "thing" except in the negative: "there is no such thing as a zebra" for example. – BobRodes Nov 7 '17 at 2:56
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There's such a thing as too X, is a rhetorical device - a figure of speech - that highlights something that someone is doing by pretending they've never heard of X. Generally, it's a normally positive adjective, turned negative by having too much of it.

For instance:

  • If you were riding a bicycle in heavy traffic without a helmet, I might say "there's such a thing as too brave"

  • If you were eating too much food, I might say "there's such a thing as too full"

  • If you were on fire, I might say "there's such a thing as too warm"

In each of these cases, the emphasis (and pitch movement) is on too, signalling that this is the news - you can have too much of a good thing.

  • Thank you for your answer ! And BTW sorry for the time I took to reply to you ! Your examples are very interesting and I am wondering something about the "too full", how can this expression be used otherwise ? Can you say "I am full" when you have eat just enough ? Is it polite ? – Trevör May 21 '14 at 16:33
  • @TrevörAnneDenise Yup,I am full works, but depending on the culture it might be impolite. Or expected! Best to check with a local informant. – jimsug May 21 '14 at 22:31
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The adjective in "there's such a thing as too [adjective]" is something which is usually regarded as a positive. The expression "there's such a thing as too [positive attribute]" expresses the contention that the positive attribute becomes a negative one when had in excess, or as the English idiom has it, "too much of a good thing". (Compare with the contrary stock phrase, "There's no such thing as being too thin or too rich.")

In the circumstances in which the expression is used "out of the blue", that is, without preamble or obvious context, it comes with the added connotation, "You seem to be behaving as if you thought it was good thing that you are so very [positive attribute], but I think you're becoming insufferable in how [positive attribute] you are."

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