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From Steve Jobs' speech, there is a sentence:

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms.

What does "It wasn't all romantic" mean? Does it mean "there is no romance at all", or "partially romantic, partially not"?

5

First of all, "there is no any romantic at all" is not a grammatical sentence. You could say "there is not any romance at all" or "it is not romantic at all", but you cannot use romantic as a noun in this way (a romantic exists, it is a person who is romantic); also, no any should be not any.

That said, it wasn't all romantic can be understood by shuffling the sentence just a bit:

Not all (of it) was romantic.

So your second guess is the right one: some of it was romantic, some of it was not.

Be aware that romantic in this case has nothing to do with love or sex; romantic refers to an idealised state, a "dream" world. You could read "perfect" or "great" instead of it.

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5

Literally, "it wasn't all romantic" means that there was some romance to it, but there were also parts that were not romantic.

Perhaps I should clarify that while "romance" normally refers to attraction and love between a man and a woman, as in dating and marriage, here it is referring to fun, excitement, and/or adventure. We can say, "Bob and Sally went on a romantic honeymoon after the wedding". We can also say, "Bob thought that joining the army would be a way to experience the romance of travel and adventure." You didn't ask about this so maybe there was no confusion there.

"It wasn't all X" can also be a sarcastic way to say that there was no X at all.

I am reminded of a statement I heard years ago shortly after that New Year by a woman whose son had just gone through a messy divorce, whose house and burned down, and, I forget, a couple of other unpleasant events, and she said, "Last year was not a year that I will look back on with undiluted pleasure."

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4

He's drawing a contrast between what he previously said and what he's about to say. In the original text,

So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

Some listeners might think he made a "romantic" choice, and got only benefits from it.

So he continues,

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night ...

When he says "it wasn't all romantic" he's saying that while his previous statement might have made you think his experience was romantic, he now wants to tell you some ways that it wasn't.

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-2

I actually slightly disagree with the first answers, I would say 'all something,' where all is essentially meaningless or just used for emphasis. I think a much better way to understand this sentence is like this:

It wasn't all romantic ----> It wasn't romantic

to explain further, this is what I mean (I'm talking about the informal usage):

adverb: all 1. completely. "dressed all in black"

informal used to emphasize a temporary quality. "my ankle's gone all wobbly"

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  • 2
    I get your point that sometimes "all" is used as a filler word, like "It wasn't all romantic and stuff. It was pretty dull.", but I think in the context "all" is not a filler word. I has the same sense as in "It wasn't all fun and games - some hard work was required." (And I'm not the source of the down vote - it's unfortunate they didn't leave a comment). – ColleenV parted ways Jan 7 '15 at 18:10
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    If he said "it wasn't at all romantic" then you'd be right. – The Photon Jan 8 '15 at 2:08
  • I still say the same, nothing in that sentence sounds romantic. I use that construction all the time. Here is a definition of 'all:' informal used to emphasize a temporary quality. "my ankle's gone all wobbly..." – Reed Jones Jan 8 '15 at 8:06
  • Now that I see it's a Jobs speech I'm absolutely positive he meant it in this way. It a very common California thing, I'm also from California... – Reed Jones Jan 8 '15 at 8:11
  • @Reed - I've looked at the speech, and I must disagree. Just before this sentence, we read: "The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting." From the perspective of a student, that's romantic. However, it wasn't all romantic: there were uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, and he had to scrounge for food. (What you say about all is true, particularly in regards to the ankle that's gone all wobbly. But I don't think that's the meaning in this particular case.) – J.R. Jan 8 '15 at 10:39

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