The following sentence is meaningless to me. What is the meaning of "buy" here?

I don't buy this person answering your mobile.

It sounds like "trust" to me, but I have never seen this meaning of "buy".

  • Empty of context, references, source and research. This could have been an excellent question...pity.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 25 at 17:28

In casual or informal English we can say we don't 'buy' (accept, agree to) an idea if we mean that we don't believe that it is likely or probable.

In the question, the speaker does not accept the idea of 'this person' answering the other person's mobile (cell) phone.

If you tell your teacher that a dog ate your homework, it is quite possible that he or she will not buy that (i.e. buy your explanation).

buy verb (BELIEVE) [ T ]
to believe that something is true:

She'll never buy that story about you getting lost!

Buy (Cambridge Dictionary)

  • Is it used though with a person as object? "I don't buy this person"? I am not a native speaker, but I have been living in the UK for 16 years. Never heard it.
    – fev
    Jun 24 at 12:47
  • 16
    I don't buy [the idea of] this person answering your mobile. Jun 24 at 12:49
  • Yes, that is correct. I was a bit confused by the title of the question. I will see if I can edit it.
    – fev
    Jun 24 at 12:50
  • 1
    @fev can't speak to the UK, but certainly in the US it is not uncommon
    – eps
    Jun 24 at 18:53
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    @fev: There are two sources of confusion here! Firstly, the object is not this person, it is this person answering your mobile. And that means, in this context, the idea that this person answered your mobile (as Michael Harvey says in a comment). Secondly, this person answering your mobile can also mean the person who is answering your mobile, but that is not what it means here.
    – TonyK
    Jun 25 at 12:38

"Buy" in this sense means "Believe" or more broadly, "accept" or "support."

"I don't buy that she was sick" -- she told people she was sick, but I don't believe it.

It can also be phrased as "buy into". According to the Cambridge Dictionary: "If you buy into an idea or plan, you give it your support or agree with it."


EDIT: I'm leaving this answer up in case it's something people can learn from, but it is incorrect. As people in the comments have noted, I interpreted "this person answering your mobile" as a noun phrase, but that probably isn't what the question-asker meant. "Buy" in this case can have its usual meaning of "believe that X (that this person is answering your mobile) is true).

As a native speaker (US), I've never seen "buy" used that way either, but I would make the same guess as you: That it means "trust". To me, you can only use that type of "buy" to mean "trust what the person is saying." So it is odd to say "buy [the person]" rather than to say something like "buy their story" / "buy their spiel", etc.

However, given that we can use "believe" in both contexts ("I don't believe his story." "I don't believe him.") it doesn't seem that crazy to me if some speakers have started using "buy" in both contexts too.

  • 1
    I'm also a native US speaker, and I've heard (and spoken) it. Maybe it's a regional thing. The meaning is that someone is trying to "sell" you something (in OP's example, the idea that it's perfectly innocent that this person answered your cell phone). And you're not buying it.
    – RonJohn
    Jun 25 at 4:40
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    It's a mistake to focus on the 'I don't buy this person (period)' interpretation. The actual question asked about 'I don't buy this person doing something. Jun 25 at 10:51
  • If I say 'I don't buy Donald Trump being fluent in Catalan/being the next US National Soccer Team captain/being the reincarnation of Geoffrey Chaucer', it would be a misreading to fixate on 'I don't buy Donald Trump'. Jun 25 at 14:43
  • I think you've misinterpreted the phrase "this person answering your mobile" as a noun phrase referring to a person (which would mean the sentence could be rephrased as "I don't buy this person who is answering your mobile"), instead of as a sort of clause referring to an event or assertion (which would mean the sentence could be rephrased as "I don't buy the assertion that this person answered your mobile"). Jun 25 at 15:08
  • "I would make the same guess as you: That it means "trust"." - I didn't 'guess'; I looked in a dictionary. That's how we answer on here. Jun 25 at 15:14

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