What does "was still but" mean in this sentence?

This game brings back memories. Used to watch my dad play it when I was still but a child. Only last week we found out that you can in fact play this game in co-op. Guess who's having great bonding time with her dad now?

source: https://steamcommunity.com/profiles/76561198126630264/recommended/704450/

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    Have you looked up 'but' in a good dictionary such as Cambridge Dictionary? Jan 21, 2023 at 13:24
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    And can you please cite your source?
    – Joachim
    Jan 21, 2023 at 13:27
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    I have aded the source Jan 23, 2023 at 5:46
  • I don't think this should be closed as answerable by a dictionary. "still but a child" is an unusual construction and I can see how it would be confusing to a learner.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 9, 2023 at 15:31

1 Answer 1


The cited text probably didn't come from a native Anglophone. This use of but to mean just, only, merely is formal / dated / literary. Which is totally incompatible with the informal conversational tone of the rest of the text. A native speaker would say...

I used to watch my dad play [it] when I was just a kid

(In practice I don't think many people would include it there, but most of us wouldn't omit the initial first person singular pronoun in this exact context.)

  • A modern day Anglophone yes, it does sound a bit old fashioned. For example the Hymn "Suppertime" by Ira F. Stanphill 1914-1993 elyrics.net/read/c/cathedrals-lyrics/suppertime-lyrics.html starts "When I was but a boy in days of childhood" . If you google the phrase "when I was but" there are a few hits, but it appears that they are used for artistic purposes, mostly in poetry even to this day. But I confess I can't find the exact phrase with the extra "I" and "still" in it. Jan 21, 2023 at 14:13
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    There will always be a few "linguistic dinosaurs" - but seriously, who cares what a hymn-writer born before WW1 put in his lyrics? And in any case, few if any hymns have lyrics appropriate to the relaxed informal conversational tone of OP's cited text. And that "incompatibility" is at least as significant as the difference between today's norms in English, and what they wrote many decades or even centuries ago. Jan 21, 2023 at 15:51
  • I, an atheist, care a bit what hymn writers born before 1914 such as Toplady and "Saint" John Newman put in their lyrics, and if I am a dinosaur because I like, inter alios, Dickens, Smollett, Shakespeare, and Chaucer, then so be it. Jan 21, 2023 at 19:34
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    Well, yes. But we're not teaching literature here (my degree, as it happens). We're just helping non-native Anglophones learn the basics of (essentially, current, primarily spoken) English. More advanced literature-oriented Anglophiles probably wouldn't be here anyway. Jan 22, 2023 at 2:43
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    @AdmiralOrange: If it's from a native speaker (which I still doubt), it's the written equivalent of a "telephone voice" (someone trying to speak in a "register" they're not familiar with, so their utterances seem unnatural). It wouldn't make sense to include just one such "literary device" in a context where it's clearly incompatible with the modern colloquial tone of the rest of the text. Imho it's a writer who doesn't usually write such text, which leads to quirky inconsistencies. Jan 23, 2023 at 11:38

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