I saw this sentence in the New Yorker story "Paranoia" by Shirley Jackson:

Much as Mr Beresford disliked the subway, he might still have to take the subway to get home in any sort of time.

What does it mean?

  • 1. Your link appears to lead to a page that does not contain the phrase in question, and requires a subscription to read further! 2. Nevertheless, having read part of the story, I assume that it means "in time for the other events planned for that evening". 3. Actually, your Q. is probably off-topic for this site, as it asks about interpretation of literature. See here. – TrevorD Aug 17 '13 at 14:18
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about interpretation of literature. – TrevorD Aug 17 '13 at 14:23
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    @TrevorD A meaning of a phrase doesn't seem so off topic to me (but I am probably on the tolerant end of the spectrum). And why not put your original comment in as an answer? – bib Aug 17 '13 at 14:43
  • @bib I'm borderline on this, which is partly why I gave an answer first! But if the meaning is dependent on the particular context in this piece of literature (which I think it is), then that is not of general interest/use (which is what swayed me). Also, if we can't even access the relevant bit of the link because it's on a pay-site, then we can't properly answer irrespective of whether it's OT. – TrevorD Aug 17 '13 at 14:50
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    @TrevorD: I don't think this is at all OT. It's relatively uncommon idiomatic phrasing that forces the reader to interpret it meaning if Beresford didn't take the subway, he'd be extremely late. Without any sort/kind of, it would imply he had some specific reason he needed to get back "in time" for something. As phrased, he might well have nothing he needs to do at any particular time - it just means the journey would be intolerably long. – FumbleFingers Aug 17 '13 at 17:08

Quoting again:

Much as Mr Beresford disliked the subway, he might still have to take the subway to get home in any sort of time.

The phrase any sort of time means to imply in any sort of acceptable or reasonable time.

One could say that there is an implied adjective such as “reasonable” or “acceptable” in the phrase, however that’s not the case. There is a difference of finesse in both the meaning and the moods of a phrase like any sort of reasonable time vs. any sort of time.

By omitting a qualifier (adjective) such as “reasonable” or “acceptable” from the phrase, the writer introduces a sense of absoluteness in the statement, which in-turn, triggers a more pronounced contrast with the Mr. Beresford’s dislike for the subway.

More could be said about this... If above does not clarify kindly post a note.


This is idiomatic and informal; “any sort of time” means “any reasonable amount of time”. I believe it to be primarily a British idiom. It is not well documented in standard references, but you can find actual examples of this idiom with Google searches. More rarely, you can find the same idiom used with resources other than time:

  • any sort of time: “He is Mr. Reliable, someone who has never missed any sort of time during the time he has been at Wigan Athletic.”
  • any sort of money: “Do you make any sort of money from your music?”

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