Saturday, February 27, 2016

How Many Fews in a Couple of Severals?



A kitten. (one)

I had a semi-argument with a friend the other day about words that denote amounts. The words were, “a few,” “a couple,” and “several.”


I contended that the term “a couple” denoted two items, (or persons, animals, etc.) everything I checked seemed to support this – unless… The unless occurs if you say “a couple of.” This is described as an idiom. To wit:


“Idioms


14.

a couple of, more than two, but not many, of; a small number of; a few: It will take a couple of days for the package to get there. A dinner party, whether for a couple of old friends or eight new acquaintances, takes nearly the same amount of effort. Also, Informal, a couple. “

Above and below formal definitions from
Dictionary.com  
  A couple of kittens. (two)

cou·ple

 
[kuhp-uhl] Show IPA noun, verb, cou·pled, cou·pling.

noun
 

1. two of the same sort considered together; pair.

2. two persons considered as joined together, as a married or engaged pair, lovers, or dance partners: They make a handsome couple.

3. any two persons considered together.

4. Mechanics . a pair of equal, parallel forces acting in opposite directions and tending to produce rotation.

5.Also called couple-close. Carpentry. a pair of rafters connected by a tie beam or collar beam.

6. a leash for holding two hounds together.

7. Fox Hunting. two hounds: 25 hounds or 12½ couple. verb (used with object)

8. to fasten, link, or associate together in a pair or pairs.

9. to join; connect.

10. to unite in marriage or in sexual union.

11.  Electricity .
 

a. to join or associate by means of a coupler.

b.  to bring (two electric circuits or circuit components) close enough to permit an exchange of electromagnetic energy.

verb (used without object)

12. to join in a pair; unite.

13. to copulate.

Idioms

14. a couple of, more than two, but not many, of; a small number of; a few: It will take a couple of days for the package to get there. A dinner party, whether for a couple of old friends or eight new acquaintances, takes nearly the same amount of effort. Also, Informal, a couple.

Origin:
1175–1225; (noun) Middle English < Anglo-French c ( o ) uple, Old French cople, cuple < Latin cōpula a tie, bond (see copula); (v.) Middle English couplen < Anglo-French co ( u ) pler, Old French copler, cupler < Latin copulāre (see copulate)


Several was even murkier. I was happy with the first definition, but #4 threw a wrench in that. One? Oh, come on. Nobody says “several” to indicate one! Then we have to have a legal definition… Trust lawyers to obfuscate meaning! Two? Phooey!



sev·er·al

 
[sev-er-uhl, sev-ruhl] Show IPA

adjective

1. being more than two but fewer than many in number or kind: several ways of doing it.

2. respective; individual: They went their several ways.

3. separate; different: several occasions.

4. single; particular.

5. Law. binding two or more persons who may be sued separately on a common obligation.

noun

6. several persons or things; a few; some.

Origin:
1375–1425; late Middle English < Anglo-French < Medieval Latin sēparālis, equivalent to Latin sēpar separate + -ālis -al1
 


Several Kittens (in this case, nine) 


Several kittens - if you're a blood-sucking lawyer.  


  Several kitten(s?) if this is kitten(s?)-as-part-of-larger-whole.

Then we have “few.” Pretty straightforward there. Unless you say “quite a few.” That means a bunch. And if you use it as a noun the numbers can get bigger also.

few

[fyoo] Show IPA adjective, few·er, few·est, noun, pronoun

adjective

1. not many but more than one: Few artists live luxuriously.

noun

2. (used with a plural verb) a small number or amount: Send me a few.


3. the few, a special, limited number; the minority: That music appeals to the few.

pronoun

4. (used with a plural verb) a small number of persons or things: A dozen people volunteered, but few have shown up.


Idioms

5. few and far between, at widely separated intervals; infrequent: In Nevada the towns are few and far between.

6. quite a few, a fairly large number; many: There were quite a few interesting things to do.

Origin:
before 900; Middle English fewe, Old English fēawe; cognate with Gothic fawai; akin to Latin paucus few, paulus little, pauper poor, Greek paûros little, few

Related forms

o·ver·few, adjective



A few kittens - in this case four.

But by and large, I believe I was right. A couple is two, a few is more flexible – say, 3 to a dozen, and several is roughly somewhere between four and as many as twenty-five.


I think most reasonable people would agree with that. 




No! No arguments!  Lalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalala!

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