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In "The Tale of Benjamin Bunny" Beatrix Potter writes "Old Mr. Bunny had no opinion whatever of cats." What does it mean?

The cat looked up and saw old Mr. Benjamin Bunny prancing along the top of the wall of the upper terrace.

He was smoking a pipe of rabbit-tobacco, and had a little switch in his hand.

He was looking for his son. Old Mr. Bunny had no opinion whatever of cats.

He took a tremendous jump off the top of the wall on to the top of the cat, and cuffed it off the basket, and kicked it into the green-house, scratching off a handful of fur.

The cat was too much surprised to scratch back.

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

Looking in Google books, many of the instances of "had no opinion whatever of" X mean that he literally didn't have any opinion of X. However, there are a few instances of this phrase meaning "did not think highly of X"1. For instance, Google books gives (Blackwood's Edinburgh magazine, 1885)

Flies! The landlord had no opinion whatever of those puny hooks with little tufts of feather upon them, which Mr Howard called flies. He would like to show them something that was a fly indeed: a marvel of mechanism, wound up by clock-work and kept thus in motion for twenty minutes at a time. That was a fly, ...

It's clear from the context that the phrase "had no opinion whatever of" means "did not think highly of" here, and given the context, I believe its use in Benjamin Bunny means the same thing.

1 I would have used "thought very little of", but in the context of the original phrase, it's too ambiguous.

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Would it be fair to say that "old Mr. Bunny set cats at naught"? – TEd Feb 25 '12 at 16:58

The explicit meaning of the sentence is that Old Mr. Bunny did not have an opinion either good or bad or complex or nuanced about cats, that he just didn't think of cats at all. The intended meaning is that he wasn't scared of cats, differently than one might expect of any rabbit.

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No opinion of cats is not the same as no opinion on cats. – TimLymington Mar 14 '13 at 13:33
@TimLymington: What about 'about'? And what is the difference exactly? – Mitch Mar 14 '13 at 16:51
About is the same as on, as I use the language. And of is explicitly different in certain circumstances; you may have a low opinion of cats, but not *a low opinion about them. On the other hand, you can have a strong opinion about/on them, but not of. (The second sentence of your answer is clearly right, but doesn't seem to follow from the first.) – TimLymington Mar 18 '13 at 14:59
@TimLymington: The 2nd sentence follows from the first in that if he were scared, then he would definitely be thinking of cats to some extent. – Mitch Mar 18 '13 at 17:28

If you don't think much of something, you have a low opinion of it. Here the phrase is intensified: Old Mr Bunny had such a low opinion of cats that he didn't hesitate to attack one.

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In British English, they use whatever where an American would be more apt to use whatsoever, with an extra so packed in there. It means he had no opinion about them at all.

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Thanks! In the context could it mean "he wasn't scared of cats"? – TEd Feb 24 '12 at 17:51
@TEd Perhaps.⁠⁠⁠ – tchrist Feb 24 '12 at 17:55
Comparting NGrams for British against American usage for "no opinion whatever/whatsoever" doesn't suggest any significant US/UK difference. All I see is that the dominant "whatever" is on the wane, so relatively speaking, "whatsoever" is gaining ground. – FumbleFingers Feb 24 '12 at 18:40
@FumbleFingers The difference is that to an American, no opinion whatever has come to sound ungrammatical/broken/foreign/confusing/mysterious. I have never heard an American say something like that. We would just say no opinion at all, unless we wanted to go over the top and add in the -so- particle to have no opinion whatsoever. There is also room for an infix emphatic particle like no opinion whatso#$%!@ever. – tchrist Nov 11 '12 at 18:13
Taking the more common collocation nothing what(so)ever, I still don't see any significant difference between British and American trends or prevalence. And on both sides of the pond, nothing at all has always been far more common. – FumbleFingers Nov 11 '12 at 18:29

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