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From the dedication section of a book:

To my beautiful wife, Donna. You're the best thing this side of heaven.

1 What does this side of (something) mean?

2 Isn't it idiomatic to say on this side of something? If so, why is the preposition on missing?

3 Last, is this specific phrase (on this side of heaven) considered a fixed idiomatic phrase?

  • I vote to close this question. This is asking us to guess what the author meant when he wrote a phrase found in a dedication. – user6951 Feb 12 '15 at 5:46
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    I understand it to be a question about how you understand the phrase “this side of heaven”. Is there really a problem with answering this question? Should it be worded differently? – Ben Kovitz Feb 12 '15 at 6:09
  • @BenKovitz The present wording "How do you understand that phrase" (and even more so in the original wording, which included "...and where do you think [the phrase] may come from?") I take to be asking for one's personal, subjective understanding of the given phrase. As such, since we cannot know the mind of the author, it seems to me that every answer is equally valid, a condition that nominates a question to be invalid, per the help center. In short, this question asks about our personal metaphysical understanding of the cosmos, which is also offtopic. – user6951 Feb 12 '15 at 13:05
  • If the question were asking about the meaning of this side of, then I think it would not be so subjective. – user6951 Feb 12 '15 at 13:09
  • @δοῦλος Do you really think that every answer is equally valid? How about “Godzilla's left ankle, but only in a sultry, sultry summer”? Seriously, I think you're being way too nit-picky. We normally say “you” to mean “a typical person”, and we normally infer people's meaning from the words they use— that's what language is for. Maybe there's something crucial that one or both of us isn't seeing here; if so, maybe this would be a good topic to raise on meta.ell.stackexchange.com. – Ben Kovitz Feb 12 '15 at 13:19
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Imagine that the universe contains the world as we know it, and somewhere, very far away, it contains heaven. Now imagine a line between them. The author is saying that on this side of that line, Donna is the best thing. On the other side of that line, maybe there is something better.

More generally, “this side of” is short for “on this side of some boundary.” It makes literal sense in phrases like:

the meanest hombre this side of the Pecos

since the Pecos is a river, which is a natural boundary, or even:

There is no safety this side of the grave. [Robert Heinlein]

if you think of the grave as a boundary between real life and the afterlife.

But it gets used a little more loosely, with large or shapeless things like “heaven” or “paradise” or “happiness” rather than an explicitly named boundary.

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As a native speaker, when I hear this I take it as meaning "The best thing in Life". As Heaven is traditionally where you go in the afterlife (if you're good), you cannot reach it or the other side until after you have died.

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