I heard this line in the Big Bang Theory.

If the height of a single step is off by as little as two millimeters, most people will trip.

  1. Does "off" mean shorter, taller, or both in the sentence above?

  2. Would "off" mean more or less in my sentence below?

If the number of your demands is off by as little as one/two...

  1. Based on the original sentence, can I form the following sentence?

If the integrity of the President diminishes by as little as a bit, his popularity will decline considerably.

  1. Can you use "Off" for states and abstract words such as using off in my sentence above " If the integrity of the president is off by ..."?

1 Answer 1

  1. Imagine that the correct value is a specific position. 'Off' in this context means not at that specific position. So it can be incorrect in any direction -- taller or shorter.

  2. This would mean you had the incorrect value by either more or less than 1 or 2.

  3. That sentence sounds a little awkward, I think because 'as little as' is usually included because you want to supply a specific example, and then 'a bit' is very vague. I would say, "If the integrity of the President diminishes even a little, his popularity will decline considerably"

  4. This would sound strange because off can mean higher or lower, so it would imply that the president could have too much integrity. However, you could use it for something abstract that could go too far in either direction. For example, "if your tone of voice is off by even a little bit, I will be able to tell you are lying"

Source: native english speaker

  • Thank you for answering. In your example, tone means here intonation? You said off here could mean too far in either direction. What are the directions in your example? Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 4:24
  • 'Off' doesn't necessarily carry any information about a specific direction. For the stairs, you can guess that it means too short or too tall because that's what makes sense, but to me there is nothing implied by 'off' other than 'not right'. Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 5:48

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