A few years back, my daughter Maria Yagoda, who knows a lot of British and Australian young people, told me to be on the lookout for the arrival of a word she always heard them saying: “fully.” Now, this adverb is common in the U.S., in two particular contexts: a synonym for “completely” or “totally” (“the hotel is fully booked”) and a kind of antonym for “only” (“fully two thirds of registered voters sat this election out”).

The connotation Maria had picked up on was slightly different and is well-put by “Diego” (evidently an Australian) in this Urban Dictionary entry:

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 10.00.17 AM

I found a few other examples out on the web, two from British sporting types:

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 5.56.22 PMA rugby coach: “We had so many chances and the game was fully in our hands for 80 minutes. I was worried, but we got there in the end. George North saved the day.”

A government official: “Large unmanned aircraft, when they come, should be as safe as manned aircraft and the British public should be fully consulted before companies fly large, remotely-piloted aircraft over their homes alongside passenger planes.”

Of course, this isn’t a blog about Britishisms, so the above examples are beside the point. Unfortunately, after being on the lookout for a couple of years, I was drawing a blank on British “fully.”
Then, in July, I came on this quote in the New York Times, attributed to a (San Francisco) “Bay Area cook”: “It’s fully this crazy superstitious thing with all these stories attached to it.” Trouble was, the cook, Samin Nostrat, was identified as having grown up in Iran.

There things stood until a couple of weeks ago, when I attended (with Maria) a talk by Lena Dunham at the New Yorker festival. She showed a scene from a film she had made five or six years ago, and when the lights came up, she said, ” I forgot that I fully had acne.”

Maria and I high-fived each other. The rest of the crowd thought we were nutters.

20 thoughts on ““Fully”

  1. Was in London last month for 3 weeks. I kept hearing the word “really” bandied about laconically (at the end of EVERY sentence!) typically as speakers trailed off with “fully” thoughtful and effete looks on their faces. Kind of like they’d just discovered something impressive but were too bored to actually react! God I love the British!

    “Yes, this is good coffee,,,really…….”
    “I don’t know what to think of that….really….”
    I don’t much like the night bus….really…..”

    Of course this has little to do with fully….really… 😉

  2. To this BrE reader none of your three examples after the pull-quote (from football, rugby and government) fall into this new usage. Rather, they follwo the usage stated at the start of the post, as in being used as substitutes for ‘completely’ or ‘totally’. Thus:

    “We will totally respect them”
    “…the game was completely in our hands”
    “…should be totally consulted”

    I’ve never heard the new usage you describe here in UK, which smacks of youth/hipster speak and may yet arrive in more general use, thuogh it seems not yet. It actually sounds dire – but my youth has long since passed.

      1. I now realise that ‘with the greatest respect’ (see below) is not at all polite – for which I apologise.

      2. Pete, I’m not sure if you’re serious when you say you realise that “with the greatest respect” is not polite, or if you’re joking, but either way, please don’t take this post as any form of criticism.

        In fact, using the expression “with the greatest respect” is perhaps being extra polite, because although it does indeed mean “I’m going to disagree with you”, it also implies an apology for having to do so, or at least a reluctance to do so.

        The implied apology may not be sincere, and the speaker might still think the other person is a moron, but the ‘polite thing’ has been done, and the conversation can continue with neither party losing face.

        It’s a shorthand way of saying “I respect you personally, but I have to disagree with your opinion on this particular point”.

    1. I take your point that “completely” or “totally” could be inserted in those quotes, yet I maintain that an American would not have uttered them. I think the difference is that British speakers use “fully” as an all-purpose intensifier (as “completely” and “totally” also can be), whereas for Americans it’s a bit more literal, indicated whether a process is complete or not. So we’d say an injury is “fully healed,” a project is “fully funded,” an idea is”fully understood,” but not, say, that a team is “fully ready” for a game or match or that someone was “fully happy” about something. It definitely seems clear that Australia is where “fully” is most fully deployed.

  3. I listen to three BBC radio stations all day. The use of ‘fully’ as an emphasiser to a high quantity is used by politicians and journalists. I have never heard it used by ordinary people in conversation.
    My Collins dictionary (1998) has this:
    Fully (adv) 1 to the greatest degree or extent; totally; entirely. 2 Amply; sufficiently; adequately: they were fully fed. 3 at least: it was fully an hour before she came.

  4. It’s quite common in Australia, so from the comments so far an Australianism much more than a Britishism. Possibly its quintessential use is the expression “fully sick” = “Excellent!”, as in Diego’s entry.

  5. I think ‘fully’ and ‘totally’ have competition in the UK from ‘absolutely’… although this has also replaced the word ‘yes’.

    Have you been working here a long time? Absolutely.

    Is red your favourite colour? Absolutely.

    Have you some examples for us to see? Absolutely.

    Did you video the incident on your iPhone? Absolutely.

  6. When I was in middle school I loved Meg Cabot’s books (she wrote The Princess Diaries, among other series). I distinctly remember her using “fully” in this manner, and a lot of her books were written in the early 2000s! So interesting. My copies are at my parents’ house or I’d leave an example here.

  7. It is definitely an Australianism.

    Basically, the phrase “fully” and its cousin “fully sick” (making reference to something that is really quite good) was coined by young Lebanese, Greek guys etc. It has been now picked up by the wider community such as in this ad where a well-known swimmer tells an Australian mum how to convince her children to eat a breakfast cereal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvChjuiInow

    Interesting use of “phat” an Americanism and “fully sick” in the same ad.

  8. Ooh, I think Simon isn’t old enough. The use was common in my 1970s teen years. I thought it had disappeared, but perhaps it had just entrenched itself in Greek and Lebanese communities waiting to pop up when our resistance was low.

  9. Interesting to read, Alex – I had no idea it had been common in the 70s. I guess for some of us who grew up in the 80s, the first we heard of this was from things like “Acropolis Now”, which is probably where the Greek/Lebanse association that Simon refers to comes from.

  10. “It’s fully this crazy superstitious thing with all these stories attached to it,” and “I forgot that I fully had acne” sound completely garbled to me. No British person would use “fully” in such a tortured way.

    Personally, I might say something like “I’m fully behind you”, but I’d just as likely say “completely”.

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