mean by

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mean (something) by (something)

To have some hidden or ulterior meaning, judgment, or intention behind one's words or actions. Often used in questions and negative constructions. I didn't mean anything by what I said—I was just making an observation about your clothes, that's all! A: "It's not bad, for someone like you." B: "Hey, what do you mean by that?"
See also: by, mean

mean by something

to intend a certain meaning by words or deeds. What do you mean by that? I did not mean anything special by my remarks.
See also: by, mean
References in classic literature ?
It is correct," said the King, "so far as the numbers and sexes are concerned, though I know not what you mean by 'right' and 'left'.
Similarly, in speaking about what was meant by rings on a bell, I am speaking about what x meant by x's rings on a bell, or perhaps in the case of meaning, what x intended to mean by x's rings on a bell.
What some people mean by "musical," others refer to by the oddly opprobrious but perfectly apt term of "mickey-mousing.
But that gets us back to the problem of what do we mean by efficient and how do we measure it when we know what we mean?
We don't exactly know what we mean by the word, religion.
As the saying goes, it opens a whole can of worms - in this case more questions: what do I mean by life?