Hello
Could someone please help me with this expression that I have come across? In a sentence someone was being described as being "far too sensible by half". What would this idiom mean? Why the need for "by half"? And the half of what?
Thanks

S.B.
1 2
Hello Could someone please help me with this expression that I have comeacross? In a sentence someone was being described as being "far too sensibleby half". What would this idiom mean? Why the need for "by half"? Andthe half of what?

It's just a pseudo-mathematical way of saying "too sensible". It means "50 percent more sensible than they should be". In my opinion, the "far" shouldn't be there (or the description should just be "far too sensible" without the half).
Obaue: Is there a name for this rhetorical figure of being overly specific? I hate to mention it in this thread, but someone was recently quoted as saying that fox-hunting is 155th on the list of animal-cruelty causes in Britain.

Jerry Friedman
Could someone please help me with this expression that I have come across? In a sentence someone was being described as being "far too sensible by half". What would this idiom mean?

Even a dictionary can tell you that, but "by half" basically just means "by an excessive amount". I suspect "Far too X by half" is a conflation of two separate idioms: "Far too X" and "Too X by half" (there's also "too X by far"). They all mean basically the same thing.
Why the need for "by half"? And the half of what?

Are you asking why "by half" means "by an excessive amount"? Well logically something physical, say a house, that is "too big by half", is in fact excessively big (i.e. 50% bigger than it needs to be). I couldn't say though why "by half" is the typically chosen amount when describing things that can't be measured linearly (like "sensibleness").
If you're asking what does it mean to be "excessively sensible" (given that being sensible is normally considered a good thing), then usually it implies that a person is so excessively "sensible" they're never prepared to let their hair down and just enjoy life without worrying about it.
FWIW, the most common "by half" phrase is almost certainly "too clever by half".
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Obaue: Is there a name for this rhetorical figure of being overly specific?

It's not just "overly" specific though, it's "faux-specific". Nine times out of ten, the numbers are just made up.
Hello Could someone please help me with this expression that ... the need for "by half"? And the half of what?

It's just a pseudo-mathematical way of saying "too sensible". It means "50 percent more sensible than they should be". In my opinion, the "far" shouldn't be there (or the description should just be "far too sensible" without the half).

I recollect Flashy, in the MacDonald Fraser novels, was wont to use a construction on the lines of "Was I keen to meet her? Not above half." Which I took to be understatement.
A little googling gives me some others on that line:

"Bath is a nice place, Catherine, after all. I assure you I did not above half like coming away" Northanger Abbey
"Mary does not above half like Henrietta's match." Persuasion

"... do you know she has been trying to persuade me, that she did not above half like the ducking Monseer gave her t'other night." Evelina - Fanny Burney
Let us recollect the more modern insult levelled at such as Jonathan Miller - too clever by three-quarters.

John Dean
Oxford
Obaue: Is there a name for this rhetorical figure of being overly specific?

It's not just "overly" specific though, it's "faux-specific". Nine times out of ten, the numbers are just made up.

You sure it's not 99 out of 100?

dg (domain=ccwebster)
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Could someone please help me with this expression that I have come across? In a sentence someone was being described as being "far too sensible by half". What would this idiom mean? Why the need for "by half"? And thehalf of what?

This is not peculiar to any one adjective.
Too X by half
is a common and ancient British usage meaning
excessively X.

Don Phillipson
Carlsbad Springs
(Ottawa, Canada)
(snip)
FWIW, the most common "by half" phrase is almost certainly "too clever by half".

Another connotation of "by half" is "so excessive that it negates the advantage". Someone who is "too clever by half" is so excessively clever as to trip himself up by trying to outwit others: "too clever for his own good".

Chris Green
FWIW, the most common "by half" phrase is almost certainly "too clever byhalf".

Another connotation of "by half" is "so excessive that it negates the advantage".

But surely the word 'excessive' itself implies disadvantage (it normally means 'greater than the ideal amount')?
It's hard to imagine calling someone "excessively clever" without some implication that it's not entirely a good thing.
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