1070: "Words for Small Sets"

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

Moderators: Moderators General, Prelates, Magistrates

User avatar
da Doctah
Posts: 976
Joined: Fri Feb 03, 2012 6:27 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby da Doctah » Mon Jun 18, 2012 10:54 pm UTC

May I make a small request? When next the urge comes along to do something like this, try "indefinite frequencies". Let us know in no uncertain terms just what "seldom", "rarely", "occasionally" and "infrequently" really mean. Or "degrees", where you can settle the age-old question of whether "somewhat" is more than "a bit", and just where "quite" falls into that same continuum.

MisterCheif
Posts: 253
Joined: Tue Apr 14, 2009 1:24 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby MisterCheif » Mon Jun 18, 2012 11:15 pm UTC

VioletSkies wrote:
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?"


So I guess we should decide which word of every set of synonyms we want to keep, and remove the rest from the english language then, right? At least English teachers won't be able to penalize me for not varying my word choice now.

Anyway, my interpretation.

A couple ==> 2
A few ==> 3
Several ==> 4-7
Many, lots ==> 4+
A handful ==> 3+, context dependent
I can haz people?
lulzfish wrote:Exactly. Playing God is a good, old-fashioned American tradition. And you wouldn't want to ruin tradition. Unless you hate America. And that would make you a Communist.

wulf.keeper
Posts: 1
Joined: Mon Jun 18, 2012 11:07 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby wulf.keeper » Mon Jun 18, 2012 11:17 pm UTC

I remember as a kid asking my Dad if I could have a couple of biscuits. I had three :)

When challenged I said that 3 was a couple. Dad's reply was "if a couple meant three then marriage would be a *lot* more interesting" :shock: :D

Cheers
Wulf

User avatar
Wnderer
Posts: 640
Joined: Wed Feb 03, 2010 9:10 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Wnderer » Mon Jun 18, 2012 11:18 pm UTC

I think I'll have a couple of beers. A couple as in 'Hey who's counting?'

astrosteve
Posts: 22
Joined: Wed Apr 27, 2011 9:06 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby astrosteve » Tue Jun 19, 2012 12:31 am UTC

This comic reminds me of my mother. A couple is always 2, no matter what. If she asks you for a couple of something and you give her more than two, she'll start lecturing you about not knowing what words mean. Strangely, it's only the word "couple." She doesn't lecture on any other word. (It's also useless to argue. As far as my mother is concerned, she's always right about everything even when she's wrong.)

My typing teacher in high school was the same way about two spaces after a period. I very clearly remember him saying, "You always put two spaces after a period. If anyone ever tells you different, they're wrong. This rule cannot be changed for any reason. It's always two, no matter what."

Yay for people with non-malleable viewpoints?

User avatar
whateveries
Posts: 128
Joined: Thu Feb 10, 2011 2:14 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby whateveries » Tue Jun 19, 2012 1:38 am UTC

webzter_again wrote:...A handful (other): A small quantity greater than a few but less than needed. Example usage: "At the Battle of Thermopylae, King Leonidas held off the Persians with a handful of men"...


Heh. I heard tell that Leonidas liked a handfull of man. *sigh* (which reminds me about a funny Joke about how the greeks invented sex for fun, and how the romans introduced it to women)

Anyhoo, four pages, no sign of acrimony? not even a smidgen?
it's fine.

User avatar
Icalasari
Posts: 107
Joined: Wed May 26, 2010 5:11 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Icalasari » Tue Jun 19, 2012 2:14 am UTC

A few = A small amount, around 10% or less
Several = Between 2 and 10
Couple = 2
Handful = A literal handful

That's how I use the words

User avatar
gmalivuk
GNU Terry Pratchett
Posts: 26739
Joined: Wed Feb 28, 2007 6:02 pm UTC
Location: Here and There
Contact:

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jun 19, 2012 2:30 am UTC

So you'd never talk about a handful of times or a handful of places or a handful of people?

Also, how many is just "few", as in, "I have few friends"? Is it less than "a few", or does it just mean the speaker is sadder about it?
Unless stated otherwise, I do not care whether a statement, by itself, constitutes a persuasive political argument. I care whether it's true.
---
If this post has math that doesn't work for you, use TeX the World for Firefox or Chrome

(he/him/his)

webzter_again
Posts: 119
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 4:37 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby webzter_again » Tue Jun 19, 2012 2:35 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:So you'd never talk about... a handful of people?


unless one were good friends with Arrietty and Pod Clock.. then, surely that'd still be very fitting.

CatOfGrey
Posts: 23
Joined: Sat May 15, 2010 12:25 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby CatOfGrey » Tue Jun 19, 2012 3:49 am UTC

Some questions...

First - any word origin geeks know about the origin of the word "Couple"? The best I get is "bond" or "tie".
Second - engineers with an electronics class - whatever a 'Couple' is, does that ever refer to anything other than two connected things?

And, though not directly relevant, Allan Sherman's "One Hippopotami" must be played in the background:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umlBrQoG6xk

User avatar
Eternal Density
Posts: 5574
Joined: Thu Oct 02, 2008 12:37 am UTC
Contact:

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Eternal Density » Tue Jun 19, 2012 5:00 am UTC

jc wrote: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. ;-)
I would read that as "few - compared to the number of humans available - specifically eight in this case". I can't see how that could be seriously argued as defining "a few" to mean "always eight". But then again, some people like twisting "a day is like a thousand years" into all sorts of odd things (though I haven't ever seen someone try to argue that Israel marched around Jericho for 7000 years, or Jonah was in a fish for 3000 years :P ).

-

Anyhows, it's pretty obvious from this thread that works have meaning in context. In some contexts, saying 'couple' definitely means 'two' and in other contexts it may not be precise. Just like 'back in my day', and 'during the day' don't mean '24 hours' while 'one day' does. And even if different works may refer to the same number of items, they can still have a different meaning. For instance, if there's 5 problems with your plan, and I said "there are several problems with your plan", it has a different intent than saying, "there are a few problems with your plan." The former may mean, "I think your plan is terrible and should be scrapped," while the latter may mean, "There's some issues to consider and resolve before going ahead with your plan," which is quite a difference even though they might mean the same number.


Icalasari wrote:A few = A small amount, around 10% or less
Several = Between 2 and 10
Couple = 2
Handful = A literal handful

That's how I use the words

The percentage is a good point: the numerical meanings of some terms depend on the total or expected number in the situation being discussed (i.e. context).
However I should point out that handful also has a non-literal use as in "If you let the kids have too much cake, they'll be a handful all afternoon," which does not imply that the children will shrink in size temporarily :D


Oh, and a handful of watermelons actually fills two hands.
Play the game of Time! castle.chirpingmustard.com Hotdog Vending Supplier But what is this?
In the Marvel vs. DC film-making war, we're all winners.

ahdok
Posts: 3
Joined: Mon Nov 21, 2011 6:24 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby ahdok » Tue Jun 19, 2012 6:21 am UTC

A couple is clearly two. The verb "to couple" means to attach two things together (referring to mechanical linkages and sex alike.) - wikipedia and my dictionary both define a couple as two.

It's not quite redundant with "two" and "a pair" because the sense of each of the words is different. "Two" just means any two things, whereas "a pair" tends to indicate that the two things are identical. "A couple" indicates either that the two things are similar enough to be related in some sort of grouping, or that they are two related things out of a potentially larger set of related things things.

Just because two words can have the similar meanings, doesn't mean they're redundant, or useless, obsolete, outdated, pointless, irrelevant or worthless.

Oh, and just because people use "a couple of minutes" to mean "ten minutes" doesn't mean they're right. They're just late.

User avatar
VectorZero
Posts: 471
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2007 7:22 am UTC
Location: Kensington

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby VectorZero » Tue Jun 19, 2012 6:30 am UTC

If you have three pairs of pants, how long can you avoid doing laundry?
Van wrote:Fireballs don't lie.

Chrisfs
Posts: 49
Joined: Fri Apr 10, 2009 7:54 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Chrisfs » Tue Jun 19, 2012 6:48 am UTC

A few is two or three,
A couple is two
a handful depends on the size of the object. It's a handful. Fror some things, it's not applicable. A handful of bowling balls ? A handful of Skyscrapers?
Several is 6-8 and most likely seven because the words look similar.

DVC
Posts: 109
Joined: Mon Feb 18, 2008 5:20 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby DVC » Tue Jun 19, 2012 7:09 am UTC

To finally answer this question someone should go through this thread and record the values (with errors) that everyone gave, and then give us the value of each term with a 95% CI. I'd do it myself but am no longer a PhD student and so can't spare the time.

DVC
Posts: 109
Joined: Mon Feb 18, 2008 5:20 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby DVC » Tue Jun 19, 2012 7:11 am UTC

VectorZero wrote:If you have three pairs of pants, how long can you avoid doing laundry?


Depends on how many legs you have.

marc42
Posts: 1
Joined: Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:06 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby marc42 » Tue Jun 19, 2012 7:37 am UTC

Instead of collecting (potentially biased) replies here as suggested by DVC, I have set up a small survey, which has already a couple of dozen replies:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/embeddedform?formkey=dDQ5dFRkTlFsZWNibzlyMks5LTRtOWc6MQ

I'll post results here and on "explain xkcd" once it levels out at (hopefully) 50 to 100.

M

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 » Tue Jun 19, 2012 8:28 am UTC

kalvdans wrote:So, by his definition, a few = √10 = 3.1623.


but [imath]\sqrt{10}\approx\pi[/imath]
Hence a few [imath]\approx \pi[/imath]. Didn't somebody say that on page 1?
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Kemp » Tue Jun 19, 2012 10:05 am UTC

acd wrote:http://hyperdictionary.com/search.aspx?define=couple

Meaning of COUPLE
Pronunciation: 'kupul


WordNet Dictionary

Definition:

[n] a pair who associate with one another; "the engaged couple"; "an inseparable twosome"
[n] a pair of people who live together; "a married couple from Chicago"
[n] something joined by two equal and opposite forces that act along parallel lines
[n] two items of the same kind
[n] a small indefinite number; "he's coming for a couple of days"
[v] bring two objects, ideas, or people together; "This fact is coupled to the other one"; "Matchmaker, can you match my daughter with a nice young man?"; "The student was paired with a partner for collaboration on the project"
[v] link together
[v] make love; "Birds mate in the Spring"
[v] form a pair or pairs; "The two old friends paired off"


*amused how you highlighted the only definition that isn't about two of something*

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

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Yoduh » Tue Jun 19, 2012 11:19 am UTC

Kemp wrote:
acd wrote:http://hyperdictionary.com/search.aspx?define=couple

Meaning of COUPLE
Pronunciation: 'kupul


WordNet Dictionary

Definition:

[n] a pair who associate with one another; "the engaged couple"; "an inseparable twosome"
[n] a pair of people who live together; "a married couple from Chicago"
[n] something joined by two equal and opposite forces that act along parallel lines
[n] two items of the same kind
[n] a small indefinite number; "he's coming for a couple of days"
[v] bring two objects, ideas, or people together; "This fact is coupled to the other one"; "Matchmaker, can you match my daughter with a nice young man?"; "The student was paired with a partner for collaboration on the project"
[v] link together
[v] make love; "Birds mate in the Spring"
[v] form a pair or pairs; "The two old friends paired off"


*amused how you highlighted the only definition that isn't about two of something*


therefore the definition is invalid, it is surrounded by too many unlike definitions.

User avatar
pkcommando
Posts: 567
Joined: Fri Feb 10, 2012 3:22 pm UTC
Location: Allston, MA

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby pkcommando » Tue Jun 19, 2012 11:40 am UTC

VectorZero wrote:If you have three pairs of pants, how long can you avoid doing laundry?

As long as I have socks and underwear that don't need washing.

:D

DrZiro
Posts: 132
Joined: Mon Feb 09, 2009 3:51 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby DrZiro » Tue Jun 19, 2012 12:01 pm UTC

kalvdans wrote:One lecture, we had a guest professor that teached us how to do approximate calculations in your head. For example, he calculated the size of atom by checking how much the school stairs had been worn down, assuming each footstep removes one layer of atoms from the stone. (meters of stone worn down) / (number of students in school) / (number of days of a year) / (school age in years) = (size of an atom).
He rounded all factors to the nearest power of ten to make it easy to calculate. BUT, to get better precision he also used the notion of "few", "It is a few hundred days in a year". And when you multiply two items with "few" in them, remove the "few" and increase the exponent instead. A few thousands students times a few hundred days in a year = one million student-years.

So, by his definition, a few = √10 = 3.1623.


Hans-Uno! Long rest his soul. Or as he would have put it, "there is no god, and Murphy is his prophet".

I do miss him. Best professor I ever had. Oh, the orders of magnitude we calculated! One of our homework questions was simply "A bacillus is floating in the air. How fast does it rotate?". To be solved by the same method.

If anyone wants to read his book on the subject, it is wonderful, but I don't think it's been translated from Swedish; it's called "konsten att uppskatta omvärlden", "the art of estimating/appreciating the world around you" (it's a pun, you see).

Also, yes, pi is a few too, very conveniently. And in case someone was wondering,
JDShu wrote:Legion: 1000 +

To my knowledge, a legion was 3000-6000.

webzter_again
Posts: 119
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 4:37 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby webzter_again » Tue Jun 19, 2012 12:11 pm UTC

I read something interesting last night regarding handfuls.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_coinage

The central denomination to the Ancient Greek monetary system was the drachm. The word drachm(a) means "a handful", literally "a grasp". Drachmae were divided into six obols (from the Greek word for a spit of iron), and six spits made a "handful".


So, handful = 6.

unless we're talking potato chips.

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 » Tue Jun 19, 2012 1:17 pm UTC

webzter_again wrote:I read something interesting last night regarding handfuls.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_coinage

The central denomination to the Ancient Greek monetary system was the drachm. The word drachm(a) means "a handful", literally "a grasp". Drachmae were divided into six obols (from the Greek word for a spit of iron), and six spits made a "handful".


So, handful = 6.

unless we're talking potato chips.

So how many spits in a Euro?
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

webzter_again
Posts: 119
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 4:37 am UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby webzter_again » Tue Jun 19, 2012 1:55 pm UTC

orthogon wrote:So how many spits in a Euro?


It's bounded between 2044.5 and zero but rapidly approaching zero as a function of time. Some financial analysts have already concluded that many euro bankers no longer give a spit.

Wolfhound
Posts: 1
Joined: Tue Jun 19, 2012 2:10 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Wolfhound » Tue Jun 19, 2012 2:13 pm UTC

Surely a handful is not a discrete number, more a volume?

For example a handful of grapes is going to be less than a hand full of rasins or a handful of seeds?

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 » Tue Jun 19, 2012 2:18 pm UTC

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

Me like. Me like lots.
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...

My favorite in this area is what to do when you want firewood: first you chop a tree down, then you chop it up.

Also, to slow down and slow up are the same thing, to speed up is the opposite, but to "speed down" is never used.
...
- "I had to run a couple of errands" could mean anything from one to half a dozen...

But here I must dissagree. "A couple of errands" is two to four, or maybe five at the outside. More than that is a bunch of errands, or some such. And a couple is always more than one.
-- 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 » Tue Jun 19, 2012 2:21 pm UTC

BrianB wrote:
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.

They don't all stop putting out, but some of them are quite a handfull.
-- 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

ctsketch
Posts: 26
Joined: Thu Aug 04, 2011 12:40 pm UTC
Contact:

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby ctsketch » Tue Jun 19, 2012 2:26 pm UTC

CatOfGrey wrote:Some questions...

First - any word origin geeks know about the origin of the word "Couple"? The best I get is "bond" or "tie".
Second - engineers with an electronics class - whatever a 'Couple' is, does that ever refer to anything other than two connected things?

And, though not directly relevant, Allan Sherman's "One Hippopotami" must be played in the background:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umlBrQoG6xk


What about other Engineers (Mechanical). THIS is a couple

http://www.pt.ntu.edu.tw/hmchai/Biomech ... eGraph.gif

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 » Tue Jun 19, 2012 2:28 pm UTC

Cletis wrote:
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.

But sometimes two despite a proportional font, because the proportional expanded space is sometimes, depending on the platoform and font, not expanded sufficiently; then the second space is used to compensate for defficient software. It also depends somewhat on the reader; my 48 year old eyes need double spaces more often than I used to.
-- 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 » Tue Jun 19, 2012 3:14 pm UTC

An unspecified small number of other points suggested by the thread so far: (I could count them when I'm done typing, but I won't. Nyah!)

"Few" and "a few" are different. I think "quite a few" is as well, and no one seems to have mentioned "just a few."
  • "Few" is either a small fraction (which not really enumerative at all and a slightly different subject) or something on the low end of the "a few" range.
  • "Quite a few" is on the high end of or slightly exceeding the "a few" range. Also sometimes used as understatement to mean anything from many on up.
  • "Just a few" is the same as the enumerative meaning of "few" alone.
"A couple of <something>" and "a couple <something> are different.
  • "A couple of" is preferably two but sometimes three or four.
  • "A couple <something>" is usually more than two and may be as many as six (or so.)
  • And what's all this about "a couple of minutes" being ten? Bull! When you phone ahead to the doctor's office to tell them that you'll be a couple of minutes late for your appointment, and you show up three or four minutes after your appointed time, no one cares. But if it's ten mminutes then you're late.
I was really surprised at how many people have said that "a few" is exactly three rather than a range. And I heartily disagree. The same goes for "several."
Last edited by jqavins on Tue Jun 19, 2012 5:12 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
-- 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

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

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby MarkkuK » Tue Jun 19, 2012 3:28 pm UTC

*amused how you highlighted the only definition that isn't about two of something*


It is the only definition where "couple" is coupled with "of", which is consistent with the example phrase in the comic's alt-text. Hence, it was the relevant definition.

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 » Tue Jun 19, 2012 3:41 pm UTC

jqavins wrote:
  • "Just a few" is the same as the enumerative meaning of "few" alone.


However, "Just a few!" means "Quite a few"

jqavins wrote:"A couple of <something>" and "a couple <something> are different.

I always thought that was an EN-US vs EN-GB thing. I've never heard or seen in writing "a couple <x>" in the UK. The "of" may be reduced to an almost inaudible schwa, but I'm sure the speaker would deny that it was missing altogether, just as a Frenchman would deny that "ne" is ever omitted in speech.
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

peanutbutterhead
Posts: 1
Joined: Tue Jun 19, 2012 3:35 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby peanutbutterhead » Tue Jun 19, 2012 3:43 pm UTC

Once when I was like five years old my mom said, "Give me a couple of those M&Ms," so I gave her two. She thought I was being a smartass. She said she wanted a few, and I said, "Well, how many is a few?" She said it was maybe five, so I went back to the candy dish and counted out exactly five M&Ms.

Anyway, a couple is two, otherwise it's redundant. Defining a couple as two is helpful when explaining to your bf why you're breaking up with him for cheating on you.

User avatar
gmalivuk
GNU Terry Pratchett
Posts: 26739
Joined: Wed Feb 28, 2007 6:02 pm UTC
Location: Here and There
Contact:

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jun 19, 2012 4:28 pm UTC

Except you're missing the rather simple fact that "my boyfriend and I are a couple" and "the movie is a couple hours long" or "we had a couple of beers" are different senses of the word. When "couple" means people in a relationship, it means exactly two. When "couple" is a verb (or related form like "coupling" or "coupled"), it means attaching two.

When it's a quantifier that precedes a noun, it means approximately two.
Unless stated otherwise, I do not care whether a statement, by itself, constitutes a persuasive political argument. I care whether it's true.
---
If this post has math that doesn't work for you, use TeX the World for Firefox or Chrome

(he/him/his)

User avatar
eran_rathan
Mostly Wrong
Posts: 1840
Joined: Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:36 pm UTC
Location: in your ceiling, judging you

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby eran_rathan » Tue Jun 19, 2012 4:29 pm UTC

webzter_again wrote:
orthogon wrote:So how many spits in a Euro?


It's bounded between 2044.5 and zero but rapidly approaching zero as a function of time. Some financial analysts have already concluded that many euro bankers no longer give a spit.


You get +1 internets!
"Does this smell like chloroform to you?"
"Google tells me you are not unique. You are, however, wrong."
nɒʜƚɒɿ_nɒɿɘ

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

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby Kemp » Tue Jun 19, 2012 4:59 pm UTC

jqavins wrote:
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...

My favorite in this area is what to do when you want firewood: first you chop a tree down, then you chop it up.

Also, to slow down and slow up are the same thing, to speed up is the opposite, but to "speed down" is never used.


"Things will not calm down, Daniel Jackson. They will, in fact, calm up."

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 » Tue Jun 19, 2012 5:16 pm UTC

orthogon wrote:
jqavins wrote:
  • "Just a few" is the same as the enumerative meaning of "few" alone.

However, "Just a few!" means "Quite a few"

Only when used sarcasticly. If "just a few" didn't mean the small end of the "a few" range then "Just a few!" wouldn't be used.
"A couple of <something>" and "a couple <something> are different.

I always thought that was an EN-US vs EN-GB thing. I've never heard or seen in writing "a couple <x>" in the UK. The "of" may be reduced to an almost inaudible schwa, but I'm sure the speaker would deny that it was missing altogether, just as a Frenchman would deny that "ne" is ever omitted in speech.

OK, I didn't know that "a couple <x>" isn't used in the UK. Both are used here though, as well as "a couple ə <x>." And the difference I noted seems to be apparent in this thread; others have not commented on the difference (unless I glazed over it) but those insisting "couple" means exactly two seem to use the "of" for exclusively, while those on the other side frequently (not exclusively) leave "of" out. "A couple of gunshots" vs. "a couple beers," for example.
-- 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

ZuilSerip
Posts: 1
Joined: Tue Jun 19, 2012 5:31 pm UTC

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby ZuilSerip » Tue Jun 19, 2012 5:34 pm UTC

Even if I concede that a couple may mean more than 2, we must agree that 'pair' remains reserved for exactly two...

Otherwise instructing someone to 'grow a pair' could get a bit too disturbing.

User avatar
gmalivuk
GNU Terry Pratchett
Posts: 26739
Joined: Wed Feb 28, 2007 6:02 pm UTC
Location: Here and There
Contact:

Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jun 19, 2012 6:02 pm UTC

In addition to meaning exactly 2, the members of a pair also tend to have some deeper connection (at the very least, they are two things of which there are usually only ever two, like gonads).

If I have to get "a pair of things" at the store, you expect that they go together. I won't be buying a pie tin and deodorant, for example. If I have to get "a couple of things", on the other hand, my getting a pie tin, deodorant, and a bottle of soda shouldn't surprise anyone particularly.
Unless stated otherwise, I do not care whether a statement, by itself, constitutes a persuasive political argument. I care whether it's true.
---
If this post has math that doesn't work for you, use TeX the World for Firefox or Chrome

(he/him/his)


Return to “Individual XKCD Comic Threads”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 41 guests