An excerpt from a book on programming.

Example 5-1 shows about as basic of a program as you can get.

To me, sounds like a weird word choice. Without it, the sentence makes more sense to me.

  • 3
    It's an extremely informal usage. Personally, I would not include of in this exact context - it sounds more "rustic/uneducated" to me, rather than simply "casual/relaxed". But see “How big of a problem” vs. “how big a problem” on ELU for more on the usage. The word about here is a perfectly natural usage - again, it's informal, but so is the whole construction anyway, so it fits in well. – FumbleFingers Aug 12 '14 at 23:06

When used as an adverb about can mean "approximately". That is the usage here. About is being used to weaken the statement. The author does not want to firmly state that this particular program is the smallest possible in PHP, but that the program is almost as simple as possible.

  • I really don't think about in OP's example is intended as any kind of weakening "hedge". The usage is effectively facetious, and the author's clear intent is to convey that Ex 5.1 is exceptionally basic. It's not really important to either him or the reader that there might be an even more basic alternative - all that matters is the reader should understand that Ex 5.1 is the very opposite of "complicated". – FumbleFingers Aug 12 '14 at 23:12
  • @FumbleFingers Thanks for the insight. I agree that the usage means exceptionally basic. I've always thought that the usage was trying to place the item near an extreme without declaring it to be the most extreme possible. You are right that most people probably do not consider the veracity of such a claim before speaking and simply mean exceptional. – Phil Aug 12 '14 at 23:56
  • Yeah - I mean, if you say "That's [just] about the most stupid thing I ever heard!", you don't expect whoever you're haranguing to be thinking "Thank fuck for that! At least he doesn't think it's the most stupid thing he ever heard!". – FumbleFingers Aug 13 '14 at 2:10

There is a colloquial American idiom that goes like, "That's about as big a truck as you can get." I think this author added "about" in order to make their saying sound like this idiom. You're right that it is a bit awkward. I think the (intended) effect is to add a tone of friendly reassurance that the program really is basic.


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