Thursday, January 2, 2014

Google me this, Batman?

Why are there more than a couple of words in the English language to describe a quantity of "2 or more?"  Aside from the obvious word "two" which can only ever be a quantity of 2, you would think there existed  one more word that could be substituted to specify a quantity of two, and that other specific words would  then describe quantities greater than two.  But, you, and until recently, I, would be wrong.

My lesson occurred just before Thanksgiving 2013 during a quasi-heated discussion I participated in between me and my parents, Sue & Phil (a "couple" by definition when describing two people who are married, living together, or on a date), about words that describe quantities.  What I learned is that these words are not as cut-and-dry as I previously thought.  Now typically, during any argument involving me, Sue (a very intelligent, well-read, super-smart woman) and Phil (an aggressive arguer who enjoys a lively debate and will sometimes argue for the sake of argument), I'm on Sue's side.  She's rarely wrong; but even knowing this I apparently had some strong opinions about the correct use of certain words describing quantities, and inexplicably, Phil shared the same viewpoint.  So we argued until someone (that someone being Sue) thought to pull out their "smart" phone and put the debate to rest.

Before I share what I learned, and what you may already know, I'd like to present my side of the argument.  I mean, if "selfies" can become a word and be added to the urban dictionary, why can't we alter the definitions of existing words as they evolve in our ever-changing cultural vernacular?  Or maybe I'm just being an idiot.  I'll let your comments decide.

My argument is/was as follows: a "couple" is two; a "few" is at least three but not more than six; "many" is more than three but less than ten; and "several" is four or more.  I thought that was a sound argument; turns out I was wrong on every count.

According to our research, we learned the following: a "couple" is "two or more;" a "few" is described as "more than one" but I also read other very vague definitions that didn't narrow down a quantity range; "many" was equally vague with regard to specific number ranges; and "several" is described as "more than one" but also as "at least two but less than many."  Huh?

I think the best use of these words can be summed up as follows: We have a few too many words to describe a couple of things!

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