Monday, June 18, 2012

xkcd: “Words for Small Sets”

Today’s xkcd:

What you get in the mouseover:

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.
My son Ben and I have debated “a couple,” just once, for a few minutes. Garner’s Modern American Usage sides with Ben.

comments: 3

Elaine said...

Forced to clarify, here are my designations:

'A couple' = 2
'A few' and 'several' (interchangeable) = more than 2 but less than 5
'A handful' = 4 or 5

After that, it's 'a half-dozen,' followed by 'a bunch'...and so on--anything up to 'a whole damn potful.'

The Arthurian said...

I always had 2 for 'a couple'.
'A few' must be more than that, so 3-to-5.
And 'several' is definitely more than a few, but with some overlap, so 4-to-7. I definitely go up to 7 with 'several'.

For me, "a handful" gets into the difference between "fewer" and "less". A handful is often not easily countable: a handful of kibble, a handful of grass seed.

BTW "Fewer" is the latest in a long line of words damaged forever by television commercials.

Michael Leddy said...

I think literal handfuls can involve large numbers. (Grass seed is a nice example.) I can’t think of a scenario in which “few” and “several” would number anything less than three.