I came across the phrase, “I can just about stand learning the filthy lingo it’s written in,” in the following sentence in the article titled “The Dragon’s Egg – High fantasy for young adults” appearing in The New Yorker magazine’s December 5 issue.

“Incoherent and often inaudible” was Kingsley Amis’s verdict on his teacher (Oxford Professor, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien). Tolkien, he reported, would write long lists of words on the blackboard, obscuring them with his body as he droned on, then would absent-mindedly erase them without turning around. “I can just about stand learning the filthy lingo it’s written in,” Philip Larkin, another Tolkien student, complained about the old man’s lectures on “Beowulf.”

I don’t understand what “I can just about stand learning the filthy lingo it’s written in,” mean.

Is “can (be able to) about stand + gerund” a popular idiom or set phrase?

  • 1
    To stand means to tolerate, and just about more or less means almost. The rest should follow from there, I'd think.
    – user13141
    Nov 30, 2011 at 10:05
  • @onomatomaniak: I'd agree with "just about" meaning "almost" (more or less), but in this case I'd say that he's using "just about" to mean that he did endure it but it was very difficult.
    – Matt
    Nov 30, 2011 at 10:18
  • 1
    @onomatomaniak. If it is “I can barely stand learning (or doing something),” I can easily go with it. But, when it comes to such expression as “I can just about stand ---ing,” in affirmative sentence, I’m uncomfortable though it's not the matter I can put my mouth. Is this very popular way of saying “I can just tolerate doing.”? Nov 30, 2011 at 11:35
  • 1
    @YoichiOishi, you're right to question this usage; it sounds a little awkward to me, too. I think it's that he's using a positive statement in a context where I'd expect a negative one. (Also, calling Old English "filthy lingo" is a bit of a stretch.)
    – Marthaª
    Dec 1, 2011 at 23:18
  • Larkin's use of the word "filthy" is no doubt a reference to its germanic sound. poetryfoundation.org/poems/48419/this-be-the-verse Aug 2 at 12:52

2 Answers 2


It means the writer can barely tolerate learning the filthy lingo it's written in.


To stand something means to endure it/to be able to get through it (usually with some difficulty). In this case he's not talking about difficulty in understanding but that he finds it distasteful (the "filthy lingo" = dirty/rude vocabulary) - the addition of "just about" simply emphasises the difficulty.

"I can't stand + gerund" and "I can stand + gerund" are common phrases but I wouldn't call them idioms.

"Can't stand losing you" is a popular song by The Police.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.