Could someone please help me to understand the bold part in text below?

I am sure you would like to hear news of home, but I am a poor person for the job, being an outsider here. I do talk to people in the Library and in the hotel. The travellers in the hotel mostly talk about how business is (it is brisk if you can get the goods) and a little about sickness, and a lot about the War. There are rumors on rumors and opinions galore, which I'm sure would make you laugh if they didn't make you angry. I will not bother to write them down because I am sure there is a Censor reading this who would cut my letter to ribbons.

"Casting Away" by Alice Munro

I think it means she is jobless but I am not sure because I believe she is still a librarian.

  • 1
    I don't think this is a "basic" question, but rather one of IDIOM. The OP doesn't seem to realize that the word "job" is not being used literally (librarian), but rather figuratively, as (role). This is a typical "foreign learner" mistake, and I voted to reopen.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jun 14, 2014 at 20:53

3 Answers 3


"Poor" can mean "having little money", but it can also mean "lacking in quality, inferior". In this case, she is referring to definition #2: She is not qualified for the job of giving news from home, because she is an "outsider". It has nothing to do with how much money she has.

If you say, "Bob is a poor singer", that means he does not sing well, not that he is a singer who has no money. Similarly, "He gave a poor excuse for showing up late": his excuse was not a good one. Etc.

  • 2
    This is the right answer, but the statement "Bob is a poor singer" could be ambiguous. In English we often need context (or sometimes, in spoken English, emphasis) to show the meaning of an adjective. eg. If you happened to be having a conversation about entertainers with no money, then "Bob is a poor singer" could acceptably mean Bob is a great singer with no cash. Your second example only has the one meaning regardless of context and is a better example of poor being used to mean "inadequate" or "inferior" in my opinion. Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 0:46
  • 1
    @MattCoubrough Okay, fair point. If I read the sentence, "Bob is a poor singer" in isolation, I would assume "poor" meant "inadequate". But if I read, "Alice is a rich singer but Bob is a poor singer", I'd probably assume "lacking money". Or word-play.
    – Jay
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 5:24
  • Thank you Jay and all other answerers. I blushed when I saw what it exactly mean. It is totally different than what I thought.
    – user3214
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 5:51

Google gives as its second definition:

poor: worse than is usual, expected, or desirable; of a low or inferior standard or quality.

The speaker says that because she is an outsider, she will not be very good at giving her reader news of home. "Job" here refers to the job of providing "news of home".


Poor for the job of providing news of home as he is an outsider and away from home. Consider This: I am poor in English as I am from Russia. So poor here refers to lack of something: knowledge, talent or quality. Hope that answers the question.

  • Please don't use keyboard formatting for highlighting. Use bold or italics instead. Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 1:10
  • @EsotericScreenName: Don't bug me with rephrasing edits.
    – Kaify
    Commented Jun 14, 2014 at 10:56
  • 1
    I fixed the grammatical errors in your post; I did not rephrase anything. Please understand that other people will edit your posts on this site. Commented Jun 14, 2014 at 12:05

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