Up until his death, Albert Einstein was on the hunt for one simple, cohesive theory that could explain space and time. Pragmatic and disciplined in his work, he was nothing but in his personal life. In fact, he was a bit of a mess.

Source: Biography- An Inside Look at Albert Einstein's Personal Life

The sentence "he was nothing but in his personal life" doesn't seem to be complete to me. I've checked out the meaning of "nothing but" in dictionaries and found it refers to "just, only". "Just/only what" in that sentence? I guess it might be "just an ordinary person/the man next door". I am not absolutely sure.

What does the sentence actually mean?

2 Answers 2


I don't think this is well written.

My first thought was "He was nothing but" is an example of ellipsis. "He was nothing but pragmatic and disciplined in his private life". (It would mean he was 100% pragmatic and disciplined)

But this is contradicted by the next line "He was a bit of a mess", which would mean that he was not pragmatic, not disciplined.

I conclude that the author intends to say something like "His private life was nothing like his professional life". But the author has made a mistake.

The contextual interpretation is that he was not pragmatic nor disciplined in his private life (his private life was more chaotic than the average person).

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    Looking at the article, it also contains factual errors, such as "his 1921 Nobel peace prize" He never won the peace prize. In 1922 he won the prize for Physics (for his explanation of the photoelectric effect) (though it was counted as the 1921 prize, as no prize had been awarded the previous year)
    – James K
    Commented May 8, 2023 at 8:35
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    It's a dreadfully written article. I spotted this howler straight away: 'he wished his younger son Eduard, whom had schizophrenia, was never born'. I see it is credited only to 'Biography.Com Editors', as if no single person wanted the blame. I strayed onto the entries on Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking and found errors that suggest hasty or non-existent proof-reading. The Hawking entry contains this gem: 'A Brief History of Time also wasn't as easy to understand as some had hoped.' Commented May 8, 2023 at 10:48

The author should have said "He was anything but (disciplined) in his private life."

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