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I heard somebody say a couple of things and they concluded by saying "and that's saying a lot". What does it mean? Does it mean it's a bit of a big deal? or an achievement of sorts?

Some example sentences I found on Google Books:

  • "There was nothing I loved more than English, not even volleyball and that's saying a lot!"
  • "I think I'd even prefer him to the terrorists—and that's saying a lot!"
  • "This has been the most fun and exciting month of my teaching career — after 14 years, that's saying a lot."
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  • The second is a little "lame", since "that's saying a lot" is redundant. The other uses are reasonably idiomatic, where "that's saying a lot" emphasizes and amplifies the distinction previously stated.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 12:57

4 Answers 4

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The idiom lets you anchor two propositions against one another in order to add emphasis.

There was nothing I loved more than English, not even volleyball and that's saying a lot!

Think: because you know how much I actually love volleyball, so just imagine how much I loved English.

I think I'd even prefer him to the terrorists—and that's saying a lot!

This one got me scratching my head too because even prefer seems really weird when contrasted to terrorists. But the comments led to the answer. The full context is the narrator replying to someone who says: "You won't exactly be short on company". Ergo prefer him actually means prefer being in his presence.

So think: because you know how much I hate being around either of him or the terrorists, but the latter are so bad that it makes being around him enjoyable in comparison.

This has been the most fun and exciting month of my teaching career — after 14 years, that's saying a lot.

Think: because you know how much fun and exciting I've found the past 14 years, so imagine how fun and exciting that month was.

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    In the second example, "he" is someone the narrator doesn't like, but they dislike the terrorists even more.
    – augurar
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 7:44
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    Well, that was my interpretation given the rest of the page. "...'even without Wally, you won't exactly be short of company up there!' ... 'I think I'd even prefer him to the terrorists — and that's saying a lot!'" (emphasis in original)
    – augurar
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 7:51
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    It should be noted that the phrase has a non-trivial likelihood of being used in an ironic sense.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 12:58
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It is an idiomatic expression, say a lot about something:

  • to show or express something. In general, I think the way someone dresses says a lot about their attitude. (Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms)

In you first example, the fact that you love English more than anything else, shows clearly how much it ( English) is important or means to you. You are revealing something about yourself, your preferences.

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    Not quite the same expression.
    – augurar
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 7:35
  • Why not........?
    – user66974
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 7:36
  • I prefer this link books.google.com/… Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 7:47
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    @Josh61 "That's saying a lot" is used specifically to emphasize a comparison, see Denis's answer.
    – augurar
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 7:57
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    -1 I have to agree with @augurar say a lot about something/someone is not the same expression.
    – Frank
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 8:52
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"And that's saying a lot!"

The core meaning, IMO, is

And I think I have just provided you with a strong expression of this fact [e.g., through a comparison].

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The idiom means a first impression of someone or something based on introduction. However, it may not be the whole story, it may be one scenario and not necessarily definitive. However, often the observer will judge at first hand.

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