I was drawn to the phrase, “Too fast for comfort” in New York Times (August 10) article with a headline, “China devalues its currency amid economic slowdown.:

The move appeared to be a response to signs that the economy was slowing too fast for comfort and could raise tensions with trading partners like the United States.

As I was unfamiliar with the usage, “too close for comfort,” I searched for its meaning on google, and found the following definition with The Free Dictionary instead:

Too close for comfort = [for a misfortune or a threat] to be dangerously close. Example: That car nearly hit me! That was too close for comfort.

I also learned that “too+adjective+for comfort” can be used as well in the way of “too fast, hot, warm, crammed, and so on, for comfort.”

What “for comfort” does mean? Does it mean “dangerously” as deducible from Free Dictionary? What can the phrase, “for comfort” add specific implications to, or the meaningful distinction from simply saying “too fast (slow, close, far, hot, cold, whatever)?

It’s as a matter of course that “too fast, hot, cold, crammed” isn’t comfortable, needless to say. Isn’t it redundant and affected to say “too fast (slow, close, far, hot, cold) for comfort," whichever in writing and in conversation?

  • 3
    The way to parse this is: if it hadn't been so [insert adjective here], then you could have remained comfortable, but as it was, it got [insert adjective here] enough that it made you uncomfortable.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 1:12

4 Answers 4


Originally, it was only "too close for comfort", referring to artillery fire. Since artillery fire is loud, you can hear it even when it is much too distant to harm you, and you can safely ignore it. When it "walks" (as the artillerymen are guided by the observers into landing the shells ever closer to you, their target), it becomes "too close for comfort" and you should seek shelter.

From there, it was snowcloned into "too X for comfort".

(Source: movies about WWI.)


It basically and literally just means

uncomfortably fast

  • 2
    ... or uncomfortably close, or uncomfortably hot, or....
    – Marthaª
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 1:13

It's an abbreviation. We know that some people will be affected by the change and it will make them uncomfortable. We are expected to know or guess who the people are and why it will have that effect on them.

The economy was slowing too fast for comfort and could raise tensions.

Here's a paraphrase with the missing parts filled in.

The economy was slowing too fast for [the continuing] comfort [of those who would be most affected] and could raise tensions.

Or simply,

The economy was slowing too fast for [our] comfort and could raise tensions.


Consider that you are in one of the old-timey carnival shows where you stand up against a wall while some guy with a weird mustache and in a funky body suit throws knives at you, hopefully just missing you such that, when you (still alive and uninjured) step away from the wall, people will see your outline described by the knives in the wall.

But if a knife comes so close that it shaves the hairs off your arm, it's "too close for comfort". The other expressions were derived from that one.

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