The Bullshit from 26/27th of September

26 across: Just combine gout? (4)

Here, it’s combine gout = merge g out = mere = just.

Some consider the use of gout in this clue to be crossing the line into ridiculously difficult territory, but I’m OK with these kinds of clues (after I had some initial frustration) and consider them pretty easy to spot once you know to spot them. (I still consider part of words as the direct clue going too far, though, an example of which can be found in a DA crossword from December of last year).

No, the bullshit here is in the direct definition, for mere and just are not substitutable in a sentence. You might say “it’s a mere cigar”, but you have to say “it’s just a cigar” rather than “it’s a just cigar”. Conversely, you’d have to say “it’s merely a cigar”, not “it’s mere a cigar”.

Hence, bullshit.

Update: In what’s becoming quite the tradition, I’m corrected in the comments, this time by AL!

20 thoughts on “The Bullshit from 26/27th of September

  1. have to disagree there. You can say “that’s mere arrogance” or “that’s just arrogance” It’s fine in my book.

  2. AS, I’m not sure you should cave in so easily. In AL’s example, I think “mere” is being used as an adjective (qualifying the noun “arrogance”), whereas “just” is an adverb (I wish I could tell you authoritatively what it qualifies! Maybe “is”? (Adverbs usually qualify verbs). The only reason “just” and “mere” seem to be interchangeable in this sentence is that there is no definite or indefinite article preceding the noun “arrogance”, unlike in the “cigar” sentence.

    Is this enough to put it back in the Bullshit basket? I don’t know. But it’s worthy of discussion. Are we ready to accept different parts of speech as synonyms (in this case, adjective and adverb)?

    Just to muddy the waters further, my copy of The Shorter Oxford did mention that “mere” could be used as an adverb. The entry is very short:
    adv. = merely —1635
    I think this means it’s not been used as an adverb since 1635.

  3. I too have problems with AL’s example. I think that there is a subtle difference in meaning in the two sentences. For example, “it is just bad manners to drink all the champagne” is different I think, to “it is mere bad manners to drink all the champagne”.
    To me it’s a bullshit clue because an adjective should not be confused with an adverb.

  4. I’m still siding with AL on this one.

    I really can’t split “that’s mere conjecture” and “that’s just conjecture” — I think they mean the same thing and the words in question perform the same function.

    I can’t split the difference between “that’s merely conjecture” and “that’s mere conjecture” either, which implies to me that “mere” and “merely” are both adverbs in this instance.

  5. I think the “difference in meaning” test is a furphy. If there is a difference in meaning in the examples above, it is so slight as to be acceptable in the world of crosswords.

    I think the real bone of contention is whether “mere” can be used as an adverb: if not, then the clue is dodgy, unless we are happy to equate an adjective with an adverb.

    And, for what it’s worth, I reckon “mere” is an adjective in “mere conjecture”.

  6. I am usually a pedant in these matters, but I am fine with this clue.

    The “that’s mere arrogance/conjecture/etc” = “that’s just arrogance/conjecture/etc” argument clinches it as far as I am concerned. In this context, mere can be exactly substituted for just, so what is there to complain about?

    This was one of the easiest clues for me, in another DA where I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory.

    Since the answer was a 4-letter word it was pretty obvious that the definition was much more likely to be “just” rather than a technical medical word for gout, whatever that might be.

    So “mere” immediately sparang to mind, followed a few milliseconds later by the merge – g wordplay.

  7. Until now, I’ve always subscribed to the notion that, if you can construct a sentence where two words (such as “mere” and “just”) are interchangeable, then they are suitable crossword synonyms. But if one is an adverb and the other an adjective, is that notion still valid?

    AS has suggested that “mere” might be an adverb in “that’s mere conjecture”. I don’t agree. But if he’s right, then I withdraw any objections to this clue. In the absence of an opinion from a “real” grammar expert out there, rather than a wannabe like me, I shall just (merely?) plough on!

    There’s something about the verb “to be” which invites “parts of speech mismatches”. Consider “it is crazy” and “it is madness”. Would everyone be happy to find “crazy” equated with “madness” in the next DA crossword?

  8. Speaking of DA mad craziness. Is the Friday Sydney / Saturday Melbourne discrepancy going to be permanent?

  9. As far as I’m aware, that’s because the copula, the “is”, has two meanings in English, one of essence and one of state.

    So you can say “he is John” (a copula of essence with a noun) as well as “he is sick” (a copula of state with an adjective).

    So in the two sentences you cited, they’re actually mean different things because “it is madness” uses a copula of essence while “it is crazy” uses a copula of state.

    Of course, none of that gets us closer to working out definitively whether “mere” and “just” are substitutable while keeping the same sentence meaning.

  10. And TT, I hope not.

    Yet again my plans for the day have been scuppered by DS appearing where DA should be (I just can’t get excited about doing a DS).

  11. I am doing my head in trying to understand the mere/just argument. However, I would certainly object to having crazy = madness or crazy = mad. Maybe it is because I have less trouble distinguishing between adjectives and nouns than I do between adjectives and adverbs.

    What about “it’s only conjecture” and “it’s no more than conjecture”, along with “it’s mere conjecture” and “it’s just conjecture”. I can’t see a scintilla of difference in meaning between all four…

  12. sorry to be late to the party, but i think a major point is missing
    the word ‘mere’ is perfectly useful as an adverb, but then it is normally used in its adverbial form, “merely”!

    that said, i’m happy for just = mere for non-grammatical reasons stated above. In the cases where the two words are equivalent, and i believe such cases are numerous, it IS somewhat ambiguous as to what grammatical role mere/just is playing. nevertheless, such cases are sufficiently numerous.

    btw, i think AS’s point of the dual role of ‘is’ should be more widely known, the ‘is’ of predication vs the ‘is’ of identity, to put it in logical terms

  13. In the Lewinsky trial, Bill Clinton was lampooned for asking his questioner meant what he meant by “is”.

    Unbeknownst to many, that’s a legitimate question!

    One of my past times of late has been noticing how much people have been dropping “ly” off their adverbs. “He did that quick” is very common these days.

    I actually quite like the phenomenon, although the more and more common use of “bought” as the past tense of “bring” gets on my nerves.

  14. Did you mean pastimes, or were you talking about your previous lives? Sorry, I mere (or should that be “just”?) couldn’t resist that!

    As for “he did that quick”, I can only shudder (or should that be “I can mere shudder”?)

    Back to just=mere. MF says “‘mere’ is perfectly useful as an adverb”. But I haven’t seen much evidence so far. As you say, if you want the adverb, you use “merely”.

    And as for numerous cases where “mere” and “just” are eqivalent, once again, where’s the evidence? Apart from the “that’s only/mere arrogance/conjecture/etc” construction, I haven’t seen any evidence.

    But I think I’ve already objected about just=mere far more than is warranted. It really was worth only a very small whinge!

  15. I really hate the spelling of pastimes. Every time I look at it, I think pa-steems, kinda like misled is often read my-zuld.

  16. I really don’t see a problem here with just/mere. Of course synonyms will have slightly different connotations, and the choice of one rather than another may even require different phrasing or grammar (“pair of trousers” and “pants” are synonymous, yet grammar forces one to be treated as singular, the other plural). “Just” and “mere” are synonymous in the sense of “nothing more than” and if there is at least a small set of environments in which they are substitutable, it works for me as a clue. To look deeper than that, at least in the realm of cruciverbalism, is, in my opinion, mere/just folly, nothing more ;-)

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