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Generally, I get to see that such sentences are used to express disgust or anger and likewise feelings. But what is the actual meaning? I am not sure about the actual spelling of the word also. Example: You are mean!

closed as off-topic by Janus Bahs Jacquet, TimLymington, Hellion, anongoodnurse, choster Jan 30 '14 at 5:06

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  • It is the adjective, and you have spelled it correctly. mean 2 (mēn) adj. mean·er, mean·est 1. a. Selfish in a petty way; unkind. b. Cruel, spiteful, or malicious. 2. Ignoble; base: a mean motive. 3. Miserly; stingy. ... thefreedictionary.com/mean – Kris Jan 29 '14 at 11:42
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    Please also visit English Language Learners – Kris Jan 29 '14 at 11:42
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It is used rather differently in Britain and America, though each would understand the other without trouble. In Britain it means that a person is unwilling to give or share things, especially money. 'A mean boss' is one who gives very small pay rises, for example.

Americans tend to use it as meaning unkind, spiteful, or unfair. 'She was mean to her sister, hiding her toys at every opportunity'.

There is also another sense in which Americans use it. If someone is very skillful at something people will say 'He is a mean cook', or 'She dances a mean tango'. It means they are so good at what they do they make other people envious and hence they appear 'mean' in the American sense.

The idea of 'mean' being spiteful is seldom used in Britain. It almost always refers to unwillingness to part with money.

  • Meanings taken from Oxford Dictionary of English (not OED)
  • Thanks WS2, for explaining both British and American dialects. – EmeraldTablet Jan 29 '14 at 11:55
  • @WS2. ". . . though each would understand the other without trouble." I'm not so sure about the truth of that statement. Sadly, I seriously question whether many of my compatriots would understand mean in the sense used in British English. Maybe, now that Downton Abbey is such a hit in the US, that will change. :-) – Babs Jan 29 '14 at 12:02
  • @Babs "you're a mean one, Mr. Grinch". – Elliott Frisch Jan 29 '14 at 13:43
  • I think this is oversimplified. He nothing common did or mean/ upon that memorable scene (Pope, On Cromwell's return from Ireland) does not imply that Cromwell spread money about; it is closer to the American sense, though before America existed. – TimLymington Jan 29 '14 at 13:57
  • +1 Good point. Could have cited some references, just for completeness, though. – Kris Jan 30 '14 at 5:20

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