1070: "Words for Small Sets"

This forum is for the individual discussion thread that goes with each new comic.

Moderators: Moderators General, Prelates, Magistrates

begriffsschrift
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon May 07, 2012 6:00 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby begriffsschrift » Mon Jun 18, 2012 12:46 pm UTC

The judgments in this comic (and a great many in this thread) suffer from a lack of context. All of these terms are HIGHLY context sensitive. You can take 10 grains of rice and have taken "only a few grains of rice", but if you win 5 batting titles, you've won more than "only a few batting titles". Similar remarks apply to "several". And, for that matter, "a couple". Though "a couple" is special because it's always felicitous when there are two of something, even when the other terms are not: two M&Ms are probably not enough to be several (if I ask you to give me several), but they are a couple.

Handfuls
People are right to point out that 2-5 grains of sand are much less than a handful. But it's not about an actual full hand. There are perfectly reasonable uses of "a handful of planets", "a handful of minutes" and "a handful of numbers", none of which one can hold in their hand. Often, there are more than 5 when these uses occur.*

*: If you don't buy my claim about more than 5 minutes, try this: "Did it take you long to fix the code?" "I got it done in a handful of minutes. The first few minutes were kind of annoying, though, because it was so poorly commented. But after I eventually figured out what the hell pRtC.pR and fNtStr were, it only took me a couple of minutes to find the bug and several more to fix it and ensure I hadn't broken anything else." In Randall's math, this would be impossible. (5 < 2+2+2.)

User avatar
VioletSkies
Posts: 14
Joined: Wed Apr 18, 2012 1:15 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby VioletSkies » Mon Jun 18, 2012 12:47 pm UTC

SpringLoaded12 wrote:A couple is 2 or 3. A few is 2-5. Several is 5-14. Fuck a handful.


Here here. I often use couple and few interchangeably, and I had no idea this was perceived as incorrect by some people until a friend raged at me. I agree with those who have said, "why should couple mean exactly two when you have the word two?"

User avatar
Setia
Posts: 8
Joined: Wed May 02, 2012 6:26 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Setia » Mon Jun 18, 2012 12:51 pm UTC

ThatGuyCalledPete wrote:A few: 3-5
A handful: As many as can fit in a hand - for peanuts this can be many, for beers (assuming handles) this is rarely more than a few, but it is several.
Several: 3-9
A couple: 2

-- Pete.

This.

My primary objection with prior distinctions is that 'a couple' should exclusively cover 2. You would not say 'a few', 'several' or 'a handful' if you wanted two of something. You would say a couple, because this specifies 'two'. It is just a colloquialism in many of the contexts being given.
I've never known there to be such dissension over the issue. I guess the comic was successful.

fr00t
Posts: 113
Joined: Wed Jul 15, 2009 11:06 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby fr00t » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:00 pm UTC

This reminds me of a time in my childhood when someone corrected my use of a "couple" for 3, I thought about it for a little and realized it was ''technically" correct but that was how some people used it anyways - the lesson being that words have no intrinsic value. I didn't realize until later that not all adults understand this fact.

Anyways... we have numbers for precision, everything else is contextual.

User avatar
Eshru
Posts: 146
Joined: Thu Jun 10, 2010 3:51 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Eshru » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:11 pm UTC

The meaning of these words very with size and weight. I think we need a 3D chart to really express it correctly.

User avatar
BrianB
Posts: 94
Joined: Wed Feb 23, 2011 3:50 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby BrianB » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:20 pm UTC

A couple is 2, unless you're lucky enough to have a girlfriend who is bi. Then it's 3.

User avatar
lutzj
Posts: 898
Joined: Fri Feb 05, 2010 6:20 am UTC
Location: Ontario

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby lutzj » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:26 pm UTC

I think he's only really wrong about "several." Several is a one-digit number bigger than 2.
addams wrote:I'm not a bot.
That is what a bot would type.

noregsson
Posts: 12
Joined: Fri Dec 11, 2009 6:03 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby noregsson » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:26 pm UTC

webdude wrote:
W_A wrote:Many = 4
(. . .)
pi = Exactly three


Funny, but pi = exactly three? That's irrational!


Huh. All my engineer friends keep insisting pi = 10, but from my years of studying astronomy I learned pi = whatever you want.

(Purposely ignoring the horrible pun.)

floreal
Posts: 24
Joined: Mon Dec 28, 2009 7:02 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby floreal » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:27 pm UTC

Many of you keep saying that couple only means two, then how come "me and a couple of friends" is widely used as more than two friends?

Just try googling "me and a couple of friends"
http://www.myspace.com/ClassyProfession ... os/1436612
http://public.fotki.com/MsFierceIntelle ... 43912.html

Asgar
Posts: 7
Joined: Mon Jun 16, 2008 12:08 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Asgar » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:33 pm UTC

I'm surprised by the number of people here who have a highly mechanistic view of language.

Language isn't ruled by laws that one can impose on others. Language is only defined by its usage. There is no "normative" linguistic science. Science can only observe and describe language, but you can't bind anyone to its findings.

Obviously, its handy to teach children the same grammar and vocabulary at school (within one nation), but language is changing. Always. It's never the same, and how a language works is only decided by how its speaker use it. When you "don't care how many people are doing it wrong", you have an inaccurate view on languages. Right or wrong doesn't even make much sense when talking about language.

So, like it or not, the usage of "couple" meaning a small indeterminate number is a couple of centuries old and well established. Your forefathers already lost that fight.

User avatar
aaronk21214
Posts: 1
Joined: Thu Jun 07, 2012 8:55 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby aaronk21214 » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:39 pm UTC

I think there’s a difference between “a couple” and “a couple ‘a”. A couple is two, but I frequently ask for “a couple ‘a those candies” (or what have you), in which I expect about a half a handful.

I also agree with what people have said that a handful is a measure of volume, which is where I think “a couple ‘a” comes into play. I never refer to a handful of things unless I am talking about an approximation of that volume, instead using few, several, etc. for counts of things that do not fit in the hand.

User avatar
orthogon
Posts: 3059
Joined: Thu May 17, 2012 7:52 am UTC
Location: The Airy 1830 ellipsoid

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby orthogon » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:40 pm UTC

DSDM wrote:Then there's also the question of when "here" becomes "there".

See also languages that divide space into three regions, e.g. aquí / ahí / allí in Spanish and koko/soko/asoko in Japanese.
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

User avatar
YttriumOx
Posts: 33
Joined: Mon Jun 02, 2008 8:08 pm UTC
Location: Hannover, Germany
Contact:

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby YttriumOx » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:43 pm UTC

floreal wrote:Many of you keep saying that couple only means two, then how come "me and a couple of friends" is widely used as more than two friends?

Because those who say, "me and a couple of friends" rather than "a couple of friends and me" (or "a couple of friends and I" as subject) aren't the best people to point to for sterling use of the English language?

Semi-joking aside, even searching for images of "a couple of friends and me" will produce many pictures of more than three people. This shows that the usage of "couple" to mean more than two is very common. I personally don't like it though. Many others have already pointed out the meaning of the word "couple" as it relates to joining of two things and I'd personally stick to this, giving the word "couple" a meaning of exactly two.
That of course leads down to the next argument you could raise of language being descriptive vs prescriptive - that is to say, if people use "couple" to mean more than two then that is what it means. Descriptive vs prescriptive is a debate that's happened many times however (including in these fora) with little headway from either side so I'd rather not go down that path again.

(note: In some dialects, "a couple friends" is preferred to "a couple of friends"; however not in mine! (and it's completely irrelevant for the topic at hand))
I wrote a book... shameless self-promotion inside the spoiler tag.
Spoiler:
Dropping Acid: A Beginner's Guide to the Responsible Use of LSD for Self-Discovery
Available on Amazon as both paperback and Kindle eBook.
You can also be a 'fan' on facebook.

User avatar
YttriumOx
Posts: 33
Joined: Mon Jun 02, 2008 8:08 pm UTC
Location: Hannover, Germany
Contact:

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby YttriumOx » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:50 pm UTC

Asgar wrote:It's never the same, and how a language works is only decided by how its speaker use it. When you "don't care how many people are doing it wrong", you have an inaccurate view on languages. Right or wrong doesn't even make much sense when talking about language.

Oops, and there I was just saying that I didn't want to get in to descriptive vs prescriptive. Oh well... Let the arguments begin...
I wrote a book... shameless self-promotion inside the spoiler tag.
Spoiler:
Dropping Acid: A Beginner's Guide to the Responsible Use of LSD for Self-Discovery
Available on Amazon as both paperback and Kindle eBook.
You can also be a 'fan' on facebook.

Kemp
Posts: 15
Joined: Mon Oct 13, 2008 10:56 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Kemp » Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:01 pm UTC

Asgar wrote:So, like it or not, the usage of "couple" meaning a small indeterminate number is a couple of centuries old and well established.[citation needed]

User avatar
jqavins
Posts: 96
Joined: Fri Apr 18, 2008 2:50 pm UTC
Location: Eastern panhandle, WV

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby jqavins » Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:10 pm UTC

webdude wrote:When you couple with your significant other, how many people are with you? One, plus you = two. That's it.
Speak for yourself, dude!

CatOfGrey wrote:Electrical engineers - are there cases where this word does not refer to something connecting two [and only two] objects?
Several (probably many) and also in mechanical engineering, aerodynamics and boat hull design, quantum chemistry, and others. But, "couple" the verb is not the same (duh) as "couple" the noun.

CatOfGrey wrote:A "handful" is a unit of volume, not of quantity. A "handful" of marshmallows could be 5-7 (large) or 15-20 (small).
A pound can be a unit of mass, force, or currency, depending on context. And so with a "handful."


OK, here's my answer:
  • Vagueness and uncertainty grow larger with the larger units
  • Couple = 2. It's so often misused as 3, and somewhat offen as even more, that it's not worth arguing over. I'm probably even guilty myself once in a great while. But it still really means 2.
  • Few = 3 to 5
  • Handful = 4 or 5
  • Big handful = 6 to 8
  • Several = 4 to 12 typically, but somewhat depentant on the nature of the things counted
  • Many = (a couple or a few) times several
  • A lot = (a couple or a few) times many
  • Boatload = Buttload = Shitload = Fuckload = Fuckton = Metric fuckton = more than a lot
  • Boatload < Shitload
  • Therefore, Shitload = Way more than a lot
"Dozen" isn't a proper part of this conversation. A dozen is 12 and only 12, except when it's 13 and only 13. It is never a range or ambiguous (except when you're in the bakery and not sure whether it's 12 or 13 in this particualr shop.)

"Spaces after a period" is the wrong question; it's spaces after a sentance. My sister, a freelance editor of everything from club newsletters to academic tomes, once asked the printer which he preferred in the text files in order to get that slightly expanded space, and the answer was that it doesn't matter because the typesetting software would put in the expanded space either way. Most word processors, though they could be as smart as that typesetting software, are not. So even though we use technologically advanced tools with proportional fonts, variable kearning, and all that cool stuff, sometimes with only one space character after the period that ends a sentance, the physical space on the screen or paper does not look bigger, or looks only a skosh bigger, than a normal space and fails to fulfil its purpose. In such cases, it is better to use two spaces. The true answer is that one should use whichever makes the text easier to read.

Next topic: define in sequence a little, a skosh, a tad, a wee tad, a bit, etc.
-- Joe
"[Some people don't believe in coincidence, but] I believe in coincidence. Coincidences happen every day. I just don't trust coincidence."
Elim Garak

User avatar
jc
Posts: 352
Joined: Fri May 04, 2007 5:48 pm UTC
Location: Waltham, Massachusetts, USA, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy
Contact:

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby jc » Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:13 pm UTC

orthogon wrote:... I would distinguish three phrases:

Few: Not very many
A few: Between some and quite a lot
Quite a few: quite a lot


On a few (;-) occasions, I've had a bit of fun with some religious friends by pointing out a biblical passage on the topic of "few". As King James uses it [1 Peter 3:20]:

when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.


It's fun to suggest that if you use "few" to mean anything other than eight, you're clearly violating the Bible's definition of the term. The religious types never actually use it this way, of course, and clearly have an idea that there's something fundamentally wrong with this argument. But they can't clearly express what's wrong with it. I wonder if I've caused any of them to avoid using the word ...

(This isn't just in the King James version; you can find the same "definition" in more modern translations. I'm too lazy to look it up in the original Greek or Aramaic and see if the phrasing is similar. ;-)

User avatar
selene
Posts: 14
Joined: Fri Jun 06, 2008 4:27 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby selene » Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:16 pm UTC

"A couple" means 2-4, with higher probability density on the lower end.

It can mean slightly more than 2 of something not measured in integers. Kleptonis' "a couple hundred spiders" is a good example.

Similarly, it can mean you didn't bother to count even where you could. That's usually what "a couple days ago" means.

Or it can mean you don't care whether the response is 2, 3, or 4. If I asked for "a couple of sweets," I'd expect the other person to shake the bag until more than one fell out, not count out exactly 2.



I wonder whether the next comic will be "Words for large sets" and the debate whether "myriad" is exactly 10,000.

User avatar
jqavins
Posts: 96
Joined: Fri Apr 18, 2008 2:50 pm UTC
Location: Eastern panhandle, WV

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby jqavins » Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:19 pm UTC

Vangor wrote:Once you come to an agreement on how many items a couple, a few, several, etc., are, ask them if the same holds true for minutes. "Oh, I'll be there in a few minutes." To me, this indicates how many five minute sets, such as a couple minutes is 10 minutes.

WTF?!? To me, "a couple of minutes" is one of the contexts in which devieating from exactly 2 is moderately acceptable, so it could be 3 or maybe even 4 minutes. But if you told me you'd be somewhere in "a couple of minutes" and then left me waiting for 10 minutes, I'd be kind of pissed!
-- Joe
"[Some people don't believe in coincidence, but] I believe in coincidence. Coincidences happen every day. I just don't trust coincidence."
Elim Garak

User avatar
jqavins
Posts: 96
Joined: Fri Apr 18, 2008 2:50 pm UTC
Location: Eastern panhandle, WV

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby jqavins » Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:26 pm UTC

ziphi wrote:It is important to point out the difference between a few and quite a few.

Yes, quite important.
-- Joe
"[Some people don't believe in coincidence, but] I believe in coincidence. Coincidences happen every day. I just don't trust coincidence."
Elim Garak

User avatar
jc
Posts: 352
Joined: Fri May 04, 2007 5:48 pm UTC
Location: Waltham, Massachusetts, USA, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy
Contact:

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby jc » Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:32 pm UTC

webdude wrote:When you couple a train, you're joining cars. Two at a time.


Well, maybe. But train cars (even the engines) have "coupling" thingies at both ends. In normal use, all but the first and last items in a "train" are coupled to two other items. So "coupling" in this case normally means in threesomes, producing a train that has any number of items "coupled" together.

You hear the same usage, for the same reason, among jewelers when they construct necklaces by "coupling" things together in a chain. In this case, the first and last items are normally coupled together, resulting in a ring in which every item is coupled to two other items.

I've heard the same use of "couple" with Legos, which have a connection mechanism for which "coupling" obviously applies. But in this case, most pieces can couple with several other pieces. The common "domino" brick piece, with 8 tabs on top and 8 holes on its bottom, can with care be coupled to as many as 12 other pieces simultaneously. Try that at your next orgy. ;-)

Maybe "couple" refers to a pair most of the time, but it's easy to come up with examples where it would normally mean connecting more that two objects together.

Note that I've played fast-and-loose with the difference between the verb, noun and adjective uses of "couple". But that's what English does, since we lost most of the affixes distinguishing such word classes a thousand or so years ago.

MarkkuK
Posts: 6
Joined: Mon Jun 18, 2012 12:16 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby MarkkuK » Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:38 pm UTC

Can you say "the project will take two weeks" to the client with an air of finality and authority?

What about "the project will take a couple of weeks"?

pandroid
Posts: 5
Joined: Wed Apr 14, 2010 3:33 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby pandroid » Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:56 pm UTC

"A couple" is two. "A couple of" is the two to five mentioned in the comic. I agree with everyone who says that the phrase "a couple of" indicates at least some uncertainty, because if you knew the exact amount, you would use the number.

"When the drive by shooting happened, how many cars did you see?"
"I saw a couple of cars - Maybe two or three."

"When the drive by shooting happened, how many cars did you see?"
"I saw two cars - A viper and an escalade."

However, I can also accept the argument that "A couple of" is generally a solid two for objects, but there is an exception for time, money or distance. A couple of buttons is much more likely to be exactly two buttons than a couple of dollars, which could any amount more than one and less than five. A couple of feet could be up to five feet if it's a distance but only exactly two feet if attached to a person.

If someone got angry at me because I took three or four minutes when I told them it would be a couple of minutes, I would consider them a high maintenance individual.

Kemp
Posts: 15
Joined: Mon Oct 13, 2008 10:56 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Kemp » Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:58 pm UTC

jc wrote:
webdude wrote:When you couple a train, you're joining cars. Two at a time.


Well, maybe. But train cars (even the engines) have "coupling" thingies at both ends. In normal use, all but the first and last items in a "train" are coupled to two other items. So "coupling" in this case normally means in threesomes, producing a train that has any number of items "coupled" together.


A coupling is used to couple two cars together. The coupling at one end doesn't care that you also have a coupling at the other end. Your logic could be used to say that a couple means 1.5 because the middle car is shared between two couples.


MarkkuK wrote:Can you say "the project will take two weeks" to the client with an air of finality and authority?

What about "the project will take a couple of weeks"?


That's an issue with how formal particular phrasings sound, not with them being different. For example, I would say "I need to expand the foo module implementation to provide the required functionality" instead of "I can whack this stuff into the foo module and bob's your uncle". They still mean the same thing.

User avatar
Flexico
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Jul 14, 2010 4:37 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Flexico » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:04 pm UTC

The obvious answer being, a couple spaces go after a period.

Imtala
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:53 pm UTC
Location: Pennsylvania

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Imtala » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:06 pm UTC

If things are too quiet, try asking a couple of friends whether "a couple" should always mean "two". As with the question of how many spaces should go after a period, it can turn acrimonious surprisingly fast unless all three of them agree.


The nice thing about working in the print industry is that there are handy references for stuff like this.

And the nice thing about being the editor of a publication is that you can ask these questions and know that your answer is ultimately the correct one, style-guide be damned.

Elirra
Posts: 18
Joined: Wed Oct 19, 2011 2:43 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Elirra » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:13 pm UTC

So to about half of everyone, is Pi approximately a couple?

User avatar
San Fran Sam
Posts: 228
Joined: Tue Nov 15, 2011 5:54 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby San Fran Sam » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:15 pm UTC

Sabreblade wrote:
ThatGuyCalledPete wrote:A few: 3-5
A handful: As many as can fit in a hand - for peanuts this can be many, for beers (assuming handles) this is rarely more than a few, but it is several.
Several: 3-9
A couple: 2

-- Pete.


Almost exactly my specification except for "Several" I take 4-7 (usually).
As an aside it is never a good idea to tell your friends about your preference here, as they will undoubtedly pick you up on every time you mistakenly address a specific number as anything outside one of your given categories. Also, who talks about "A handful of beers"? :?


No one. We have a perfectly good word for that... six pack.

Madact
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon Jun 18, 2012 8:48 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Madact » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:18 pm UTC

The "couple" thing is actually really, really simple to understand. Let me lay it out for you...

2 is exactly the same as "a couple"
=> "I'll be with you in two minutes" is exactly "I'll be with you in a couple of minutes"
=> You can bet your boots that the time period being referred to is not equal to 120 seconds

The upshot of this? The usage doesn't change the meaning of the word, it's an example of hyperbole, and a recognised idiom, but neither of those considerations change the 'meaning' of the word until the original meaning falls into disuse while the new one remains... which hasn't happened yet, as the use of "a couple" to mean exactly 2 in most contexts hasn't gone away. Until it does, we are stuck with a meaning (a couple is 2) and an idiomatic usage (a couple is a small positive number). Sorry.

The English language (like most every language) is full of such:
- You could use "walking down the street" or "going up the road" to describe the exact same scenario.... is it common usage? Yes. Does it mean that "up" or "down" are the same direction? Heck no...
- A driver can "run over" someone with their car... does that mean the person driving the car is "running"? Of course not...
- You can "hold your horses"... but I don't see any equines in the vicinity, so that must be wrong, huh?
- "I'll be with you in one second" could really stuff you up if you wanted to start taking measurements with it...
- "I had to run a couple of errands" could mean anything from one to half a dozen...
- "I had a couple of drinks" ... well now... that's always more than two... probably starts at about five and goes up from there... :mrgreen:

So, meaning vs idiom. Not the same thing.

xorsyst
Posts: 23
Joined: Wed Jul 23, 2008 9:28 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby xorsyst » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:25 pm UTC

I just came here to congratulate Randall on his excellent trolling.

Yoduh
Posts: 31
Joined: Tue Sep 20, 2011 3:49 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Yoduh » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:32 pm UTC

A couple does not mean two. Couple as a noun CAN mean a pair of something. Couple as a verb means to connect two things. But "a couple", as an IDIOM can mean

a couple of, more than two, but not many, of; a small number of; a few

History:
The phrase a couple of, meaning “a small number of; a few; several,” has been in standard use for centuries, especially with measurements of time and distance and in referring to amounts of money: They walked a couple of miles in silence. Repairs will probably cost a couple of hundred dollars. The phrase is used in all but the most formal speech and writing.

After coming into this thread I feel like I must be living under a rock, except I've read books, watched TV shows, and seen movies and the phrase "a couple of" is everywhere and I've never seen it to mean exactly two. Like if someone asked you for a couple of skittles and you handed them exactly two you'd probably be called a jerk. This thread melts my brain.

billyjoebob
Posts: 1
Joined: Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:33 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby billyjoebob » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:36 pm UTC

If you are part of a couple and your significant other believes a couple can be more than two just bring a third home one night and see what happens.
Last edited by billyjoebob on Tue Jun 19, 2012 11:03 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

Rotherian
Posts: 164
Joined: Mon Nov 07, 2011 1:57 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Rotherian » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:36 pm UTC

SpringLoaded12 wrote:Fuck a handful.


I don't need to do that. I have a wife.
There are two general categories of opinion: regular opinions and informed opinions.
Please do not argue with me unless your opinion falls into the latter category.
Image

User avatar
BrianB
Posts: 94
Joined: Wed Feb 23, 2011 3:50 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby BrianB » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:44 pm UTC

Rotherian wrote:
SpringLoaded12 wrote:Fuck a handful.


I don't need to do that. I have a wife.


If you have a wife, then maybe you do "fuck a handful".

Everyone knows that women stop putting out once they get you to marry them. Your statement would carry more believability had you said that you have a girlfriend.

User avatar
Widmerpool
Three for the price of one!
Posts: 37
Joined: Sat Apr 28, 2012 6:57 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Widmerpool » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:51 pm UTC

Locoluis wrote:No. A couple is a pair of lovers.

When people started using that word to mean "any group of two things", they were already stretching it.

No, "cople" came from "copula" meaning a link. When people started using that word to mean a romantic linkage (in 13th century France), they were compressing it.

Locoluis wrote:Any use of that word meaning any number of things other than two is an affront against language.

In general I will use 'couple' to mean two, but "a couple of minutes" is more flexible than that - not because 'couple' is flexible, but because 'minutes' is. A couple of eggs is two, a couple of gunshots is two, a couple of minutes (or a couple of kilos) is roughly two.

But if someone says "pass me a couple of panel pins" and I pass them two and they say "no, a couple more" I won't get stroppy with them. It's a well-known variation in usage, and anyone making a big deal of it is an arse.

I will choose "couple" (or "brace") rather than "pair" or "two" where I'm not entirely confident that my estimate is exact. "A couple of minutes" means "almost certainly noticeably more than sixty seconds, and very likely noticeably less than three". If I tell you I'll be able to start on that job in a couple of days, I don't expect you to set an alarm for 172,800 seconds after the end of my sentence.

Kemp wrote:
Asgar wrote:So, like it or not, the usage of "couple" meaning a small indeterminate number is a couple of centuries old and well established.[citation needed]

http://tinyurl.com/cqnzv9n
El temps es breu; nemini parco.

Cletis
Posts: 6
Joined: Mon Aug 22, 2011 2:37 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Cletis » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:52 pm UTC

RebeccaRGB wrote:Two spaces after a sentence is something left over from when we typed on typewriters and didn't have proper fonts. Now we have computers and proper, proportional fonts, so one space after a sentence is proper. My mom agrees, and she's an editor.


Just to clarify, computers can display/print content using fixed-width fonts, so the correct rule is to use two spaces when using a fixed-width font, and one space when using a proportional-width font. Ask your mum; she will concur.
Last edited by Cletis on Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:58 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
sam_i_am
Posts: 624
Joined: Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:38 pm UTC
Location: Urbana, Illinois, USA

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby sam_i_am » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:55 pm UTC

"A few" is a small, small set, It normally emphasizes to the smallness of the number.

"several" is a large small set. It emphasizes the largeness of the number.
you never hear someone use the word "several" to describe a number that is lower than expected.

"a couple" is 2

"a handful" as it is portrayed in the comic, is a synonym for "a few"

jpers36
Posts: 232
Joined: Wed Apr 14, 2010 2:47 pm UTC
Location: The 3-manifold described by Red and Blue

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby jpers36 » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:57 pm UTC

BrianB wrote:Everyone knows that women stop putting out once they get you to marry them. Your statement would carry more believability had you said that you have a girlfriend.


Your 'everyone' must be marrying the wrong women.

Cletis
Posts: 6
Joined: Mon Aug 22, 2011 2:37 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Cletis » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:57 pm UTC

jqavins wrote:"Spaces after a period" is the wrong question; it's spaces after a sentance. My sister, a freelance editor of everything from club newsletters to academic tomes, once asked the printer which he preferred in the text files in order to get that slightly expanded space, and the answer was that it doesn't matter because the typesetting software would put in the expanded space either way. Most word processors, though they could be as smart as that typesetting software, are not. So even though we use technologically advanced tools with proportional fonts, variable kearning, and all that cool stuff, sometimes with only one space character after the period that ends a sentance, the physical space on the screen or paper does not look bigger, or looks only a skosh bigger, than a normal space and fails to fulfil its purpose. In such cases, it is better to use two spaces. The true answer is that one should use whichever makes the text easier to read.


Except that "whichever makes the text easier to read" can be exactly quantified: Two spaces when using a fixed-width font, and one space when using a proportional-width font.

User avatar
keithl
Posts: 658
Joined: Mon Aug 01, 2011 3:46 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby keithl » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:59 pm UTC

CatOfGrey wrote:
A "couple of minutes" on Google suggested "couple" came from the words meaning "Tie", or "Bond", ...

Electrical engineers - are there cases where this word does not refer to something connecting two [and only two] objects?


Coupling (as in connecting) usually means a plug and socket mated together, and comes from plumbing. A three way coupling involves a T connector, and there are four-way plumbing couplings. We usually just use the word "connect". Or "interface" if we are being snobbish.

To my wife, a "couple of minutes" means anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes. On the other hand, a couple in the intimacy sense must never involve a second woman, regardless of hotness.


Return to “Individual XKCD Comic Threads”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Majestic-12 [Bot] and 47 guests