I am not quite sure if the following expression makes sense in English:

in the strict meaning of the term

Is it right? Should the word meaning be replaced by sense? The meaning of the phrase should be somehow synonymous with "strictly speaking."

A possible example would be:

I am not a fan of Man United in the strict meaning of the term, since I have been in Old Trafford only once.

  • 1
    I don't know if it's a regional thing or not, but my ear does expect sense, there (and you can skip the "of the term", and even emphasize by saying strictest). I'm from the U.S., maybe the Brits will have a different opinion.
    – Dan Bron
    Feb 4, 2015 at 9:53
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    Nope, well not this one. I too expect 'sense'. Possibly because, for me at least, the meaning of 'sense' is less categorical than the meaning of 'meaning' ;)
    – Dan
    Feb 4, 2015 at 10:03
  • The slight irregularity you hear is just your inner schoolmarm saying "Hey, I haven't heard that usage before." But sense and meaning are synonyms, and there is nothing wrong with having a "strict" meaning. The usage is neither ambiguous nor confusing.
    – Robusto
    Feb 4, 2015 at 10:28
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    Yeah, "in the strict (or strictest) sense of the term" is what I'm most familiar with, and using "meaning" would seem very slightly "strange", though not hard to understand, and certainly not improper.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 4, 2015 at 13:04

1 Answer 1


I am not a fan of Man United in the strictest meaning of the term word, since I have been in Old Trafford only once.

Note the change to superlative there!

The use of meaning is correct here. The reference being to the meaning of the word fan.


I am not a fan of Man United in the strictest sense of the term, since I have been in Old Trafford only once.

The use of sense makes better sense here. The reference is to the popular idea of a fan, not the lexical definition.

Both words are correct. Depending on the context and the intended meaning, either word can find use.

Use case:

Up to now we have considered the colors in the strictest meaning, namely as conditions or affections of the eye. This consideration is the first and most essential part of the color theory in the strictest sense, which, as such, must be the basis for all further investigations about colors and with which they always must remain in agreement.

Arthur Schopenhauer, Philipp Otto Runge: On Vision and Colors; Color Sphere (Google eBook) p.99

Note the use of both forms in the same paragraph, which may or may not be intentional, though.

In the strict(est) sense is idiomatic; in the strict(est) meaning is literal.

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