Discussion on the use of "Few"

Languages used in Carnatic Music & Literature

Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#26  Postby Nick H » 25 Jun 2010 21:36

Let's discuss Rama Varma and BMK in this thread!

:lol:

ragam-talam wrote:How about this one then: "I expect few people would approve of the new law."
Can this include none? In fact it does.
I answered this already: it does not. Few, if any, includes none, and would be the correct usage.

Or consider this:
A tells B: "Few would believe you."
If it later turns out that nobody believed B, then A can surely say "I told you so!"
I rest my case.
If it turns out to be none, then that is even fewer than I expected!

If I must, I can type out the Oxford Dictionary definition, but I promise you it does not mention "none"
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#27  Postby cmlover » 25 Jun 2010 21:46

OED does not list the meaning 'none' for 'few'...
Don't know whether few can be used as a synonym for none. I guess not..

By the by can you also show the distinction in the use between 'little' vs 'a little' ...
OED also gives the meaning little =not at all, hardly
but when preceded by 'a' means 'somewhat'...
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#28  Postby Suji Ram » 25 Jun 2010 21:49

I think there is a difference when you write
few gimmicks vs a few gimmicks
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#29  Postby Nick H » 25 Jun 2010 22:27

Yes, there is: in that context, we might say, "few gimmicks" approvingly, and "a few gimmicks" meaning we would rather there were none.

little and a little... context dependent. My first thought was little just means small, whereas "a little" means a small amount of. Then I thought of a little girl!
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#30  Postby ragam-talam » 25 Jun 2010 23:15

Nick H wrote:I answered this already: it does not. Few, if any, includes none, and would be the correct usage.
Few already means 'hardly any' - the usage 'few, if any' merely stresses the point.
Few contains within it 'none'. Mind you, I am not saying it means none - a subtle difference.
To borrow a mathematical analogy: 'tending to zero'.

Little > 'the music had little impact on him' - means: the music had practically no impact.

If I must, I can type out the Oxford Dictionary definition, but I promise you it does not mention "none"
You need to look at several examples to tease out the meaning in this instance. Not just a simple look-up in a dicitionary.
Few means 'hardly any'. And that includes none.
(again, note: few doesn't equal none, but it includes none.)
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#31  Postby vasanthakokilam » 25 Jun 2010 23:19

Nick H wrote:If it turns out to be none, then that is even fewer than I expected!

:lol:
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#32  Postby ragam-talam » 25 Jun 2010 23:25

cmlover wrote:By the by can you also show the distinction in the use between 'little' vs 'a little' ...
The contrast is best brought out through examples:
"There is little merit in his argument" >> means 'his argument has no merit'
vs
"There is a little merit in his argument" >> means 'his argument has some merit - but only a small amount'
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#33  Postby vasanthakokilam » 25 Jun 2010 23:34

Languages have Syntax, Semantics and Pragmatics.
The usage of "few" we talk about here is in pragmatics and not in syntax or semantics.

It is a "passive aggressive" usage. The person who says 'few' wants it to be an aggressive and assertive 'none' but uses a more polite and passive "few". It is also a CYA in case it turns out to be 'not none'. So the correct semantics is 'small number greater than zero' but the implied pragmatics is a passive aggressive 'tending to zero'.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#34  Postby cmlover » 25 Jun 2010 23:40

It appears there is a parallelism between the use of few and a few vs little and a little...
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#35  Postby Nick H » 25 Jun 2010 23:53

ragam-talam wrote:Few means 'hardly any'. And that includes none.
So, you would see an empty room and say there are few people there? I think you would not.

Few is somewhat relative too, "few among this family" might be one or two; "few among Indians" might be a million!
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#37  Postby Nick H » 26 Jun 2010 01:40

Interesting; I hadn't realised that few is for countable things, and little is for uncountable things. Not consciously, at any rate: I would never have said that there is only a few tea in the jar!

I think we have the same sort of thing with "less". Pedants hate supermarkets in UK, because, if I can recall this correctly, there will be a check-out queue with a notice saying "Less than five items". They insist that it must be "Fewer than five items".

After a quick google... I can see, from this link, that they are right Fewer or Less?
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#38  Postby ragam-talam » 26 Jun 2010 01:40

Nick H wrote:So, you would see an empty room and say there are few people there? I think you would not.
No, it works in the reverse direction...
If someone said "Few people are left in the room" - then when you take a look inside and find no-one there, their statement remains true.
But if they said "A few people are left in the room" - and you found no-one inside, their statment would be considered false.
It's in this sense that 'few' includes 'none'.
Hope that's clear.

VK has provided an alternative explanation that should throw more light on this.

The key point to note is that 'few' cannot be directly related to numbers as such - it's more a statement of a 'biased belief'. It's as if the speaker is expressing an opinion-of-sorts.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#39  Postby Nick H » 26 Jun 2010 01:45

If someone said "Few people are left in the room" - then when you take a look inside and find no-one there, their statement remains true.
No. There had been a few people in the room, so your informer was not lying about his observation, but now there are none.

The situation would be exactly the same if you reached the room to find it filled to capacity with people: there were only a few people when your friend saw the room.

If you continue to insist on the same logic, then you must say that few includes a vast crowd as much as it does none
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#40  Postby ragam-talam » 26 Jun 2010 01:49

One more try:
Suppose a giant comes to town. And someone says 'few would challenge him to a duel'.
Does this mean at least one person (i.e. non-zero) would challenge the giant?
No!
But your above line of argument would imply that.

If you continue to insist on the same logic, then you must say that few includes a vast crowd as much as it does none
You keep missing the key point here.
'Few' does not refer to numbers at all - at least directly. It's a statement of the bias in the speaker's statement, i.e. the speaker believes 'hardly any' is true. Or, as VK has so eloquently put it - you want to say none, but you state it mildly (CYA, to use VK's lovely phrase!) by saying 'few'.

On the other hand, 'a few' does indicate a small number.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#41  Postby Suji Ram » 26 Jun 2010 01:55

Ok, there were a few errors in my review.
But if I said" His/her reveiw had few errors"- does that mean there were no errors. Then I would rather say, "His/her review had no errors". ;)
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#42  Postby Nick H » 26 Jun 2010 02:08

You keep missing the key point here. 'Few' does not refer to numbers at all. It's a statement of the bias in the speaker's statement, i.e. the speaker believes 'hardly any' is true.
OK, I now understand the source of your misunderstanding! It will save us a lot of time if I have recourse to the dictionary:

(leaving out the etymology and pronunciation stuff)

1. Not many; accounting to a small number (in a few, some few, opp. to 'none at all')
2. Used ... to form a virtual collective noun ...
3. Of a company or number: small
4. Of quantity: Not much

It mentions also the comparative and superlative are fewer and fewest.

I hope now, that I have been able to bring you a better understanding of the English word 'few' :)

Phew! :lol:
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#43  Postby ragam-talam » 26 Jun 2010 02:14

Phew! :lol:
Phew Indeed. All these meanings refer to 'a few'.
I hope you are not now going to say 'There are few people here' to mean there are a small number (collective etc) of people!?

I can't believe I have to explain all this to an Englishman!
:)
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#44  Postby mahakavi » 26 Jun 2010 02:29

I made the same point that NickH made. If you read my post in entirety you would have caught that.
This time the Englishman is right. "few" means >0 but not far beyond that. Quite a few would extend that range. Lot would mean many.

'few people would tackle that problem' means almost none but one or two is meant. If none would tackle that problem say so. If you are not sure then use "few" because there may be a brave soul or two who might attempt that.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#45  Postby Nick H » 26 Jun 2010 02:38

That you mahakavi, but we must, I think admit relativity into this. There is a famous rock festival going on in England this weekend: in the unlikely event of, say, a mere ten thousand people turning up, the organisers would rightly complain that "very few people came" or that "only a few turned up"
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#46  Postby arasi » 26 Jun 2010 03:00

Phew! Homonym-wise (tres americain) it means never?? ;)
We come to the lounge to relax and not to relive the dreaded grammar classes of our school days!
The paNDitars box is open--'pundits box--oh, dear! indian word , now a legitimate english word!
We all make mistakes. If we get our message across, then it's fine. It's perhaps a good idea to send a personal mail to the poster than write about it on the forum? Of course, in the sAhitya section, corrections are asked for, at times.
No big deal, but analysing something trivial like this at length may lead to some folks feeling hesitant about writing a review again.
Having said that, I think I hear the bell, thank goodness, and I've to run!
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#47  Postby Nick H » 26 Jun 2010 03:59

Arasi... We knew what we were getting into. Knowing all the risks, we plunged, headlong, into this fearful onslaught, slugging it out, blow for blow!

It's all Rama Varma's fault, really ;)
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#48  Postby Suji Ram » 26 Jun 2010 04:46

Nick H wrote:
It's all Rama Varma's fault, really ;)


I like that!! ;) ....for his gimmicks...
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#49  Postby arasi » 26 Jun 2010 04:56

Tut tut, Nick! |(

Maketh thou a whipping boy of his royal personage?
And forget the scribe whose fiddling hand wrote of his music?
Nay, this prince is gentle--'off with their heads!' is not his wont,
Callest thyself an englishman or indian as your habits proclaim?
Either way you are doomed, Nicholas!
For english will never leave you, bite your tongue! :)
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#50  Postby ragam-talam » 26 Jun 2010 05:18

arasi wrote:No big deal, but analysing something trivial like this at length
Hey, maybe this is trivial for you, but not so trivial for others.

Then you say:
Of course, in the sAhitya section, corrections are asked for, at times
Hmm, wonder why you say that! Is it because sahitya is closer to your heart perhaps?
:)
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