Discussion on the use of "Few"

Languages used in Carnatic Music & Literature

Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#76  Postby Nick H » 27 Jun 2010 21:44

vk... the comparative of few is fewer; the superlative is fewest. Wasn't that in my dictionary definition? None of them include zero.

You would not say "a few students, if any, are as creative as X" because it is clumsy, if not bad English. Actually, I doubt that you would say it: your English is far too good.
I am just reporting how I have known it to be used, in the narrow set of real world circumstances I have outlined.
It is a common word, you must be reporting the narrow set of real-world circumstances in which you may have heard it misused. In over fifty years of learning and speaking English, in daily reading, for the last twenty years or so, of novelists ranging from Nobel prize winners to entertaining rubbish, as well as non-fiction and technical literature, I have never come across this "few" including none.

You have refuted the standard authority on this language (the Oxford Dictionary). You have absolutely refused to take the word of an English speaker. You are, no doubt, determined to be wrong!

Whilst it may lead to misunderstanding it, it is but one word, a small thing --- I don't know where Arasi gets her information, but let me join her in wishing you a very happy birthday and a year full of good music :)
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#77  Postby vasanthakokilam » 27 Jun 2010 22:27

you must be reporting the narrow set of real-world circumstances in which you may have heard it misused.

I grant you that.

For example, when I read "Nuns Go Places Where Few Dare to Go" in http://church-ladies.blogspot.com/2010/ ... to-go.html

I understand it as an implicit expression of doubt that any one will go where the nuns go spiritually. That may be a misuse on their part or misunderstanding on my part.

(Thanks everyone for the birthday wishes. Nick, it is from a different thread ).
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#78  Postby Nick H » 27 Jun 2010 23:04

Well, the nuns go there, so it doesn't matter if the few includes others or not: it is not no-one.

This puts me in mind of arguing with an ex-boss, who, despite having spoken the language for a few more years than I, could not understand that it is not possible for something to be more or less unique. Unique means one only and has no comparative or superlative. The error messages from some database software (eg "not unique enough") don't help. The thing about unique being unique, is something that some English people just can't grasp.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#79  Postby vasanthakokilam » 28 Jun 2010 00:02

>Well, the nuns go there, so it doesn't matter if the few includes others or not: it is not no-one.

I do not understand this. When you say "if the few includes others or not", isn't that what the main point is, if the 'count of others includes zero or not'. If all you are saying is since at least one nun goes there, it is not zero. Fine, that is not a problem for me at all. Meaning, in the above usage, if the reference to 'few' includes the nuns, then you are absolutely right. That is not how I understood it. May be that is where the issue is, a misunderstanding on my part on that key point.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#80  Postby Nick H » 28 Jun 2010 01:32

If there was some feature to google that analysed style, form and content, it might tell us that this nun title is formed from some other saying. Or I might be thinking of "where angels fear to tread". So might the writer have been. There is quite a lot wrong in that piece (which taught me the word sodality), but, as I posted on another thread here today, the author wasn't taking an exam.

My understanding of what the writer wishes to convey is that nuns routinely do things and go to places and situations that would be unusual for others, but this still places them squarely among the few, so yes, the few includes the nuns. Enamoured of nuns as the author clearly is, I don't think [s]he is suggesting that nuns were alone in any of the great works ascribed to them, except perhaps the battle-field nursing, that might not have included other civilian women.

We can conclude, though, thanks to your example, that few can include nun :)
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#81  Postby mahakavi » 28 Jun 2010 01:34

When you mean "none" (no one, not one), "few" will not fit.
When you mean "few", "none" has no place there, except "nun" :grin:
Last edited by mahakavi on 28 Jun 2010 01:37, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#82  Postby Nick H » 28 Jun 2010 01:36

but nun has :)

Otherwise, yes. Succinct and correct.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#83  Postby vasanthakokilam » 28 Jun 2010 02:01

;)

>When you mean "none" (no one, not one), "few" will not fit.

Correct. I am not saying that either.

The narrow set of circumstances I am referring to has to satisfy a few conditions:

1) The cardinality is not known for certain.
2) None would be too assertive and deterministic, one needs a softer form of assertion.
3) It is not a statement of fact but a fuzzy characterization.

Anyway, the nun example is just that and I instinctively understood that it is referring to the others ( and not the nuns ) and it satisfies the above three conditions to include the possibility ( mind you, just the possibility ) of zero others.

( Just as an aside, If I am developing a data model for the above sentence, until I get to ask a clarifying question, I would model the cardinality as 0 to M and not 1 to M . The latter can get us into trouble in the future. )
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#84  Postby Nick H » 28 Jun 2010 02:24

I'd have to look up the word "cardinality", but I sure I can reply 1 to m.

Then we'll have to agree to differ. Although it may appear otherwise, there is a limit to how many times I can repeat myself!

mahakavi has caught me out, this evening, with two errors --- but on this matter, I am absolutely, 100%, after sleeping on it, after wondering if I haven't made one of my crazy confusions, after discounting any possible dyslexia, certain.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#85  Postby vasanthakokilam » 28 Jun 2010 02:42

Alright Nick, sounds good. Until we find any other evidence or data point, we will stop here.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#86  Postby vasanthakokilam » 28 Jun 2010 03:23

Let me take this into a bit of a geeky direction... just for fun... This may not shed anything to the current issue at hand...

Here is how one will model the sentence, "Nuns Go Places Where Few Dare to Go", epistemologically speaking ( knowledge representation, data modeling etc. )...
I am interpreting that the 'few' refers to lay persons and not nuns.

Ready?... don't tell me you were not warned... geek alert had been issued. :)

We have two nouns: Person and Place ( spiritual place in this context.. )

Relationship under consideration is "Person going to Places"

Nun IS A person
Lay person IS A person

The relationship between Person and Place is as follows: A specific person can go to 0 or more places and a specific place is visted by 0 or more persons.
So the cardinality of the relationship is usually written as: Person to Place is 1 to 0..M and Place to Person is 1 to 0..M

The relationship between Nun and Place is as follows: A specific nun can go to 1 or more places and a specific place is visited by 0 or more Nuns.
So the cardinality of the relationship is: Nun to Place is 1 to 1..M and Place to Nun is 1 to 0..M

The relationship between lay person and place is as follows: A specific lay person can go to 0 or more places and a specific place is visited by 0 or more lay persons.
So the cardinality of the relationship is: Lay person to Place is 1 to 0..M and place to lay person is 1 to 0..M

As you can see, the relationship of places to anyone is always 0..M since a specific place need not be visited by anyone...
There are places even nuns do not visit. That is not our current debate.

But the relationship between Person to Places is where the interest is. It goes like this.

Person to Place is 1 to 0..M
Nun to Place is 1 to 1..M
Lay person to Place is 1 to 0..M

The query that validates the 'zero inclusiveness" will be implemented as follows.

Are there places that are visited by Nuns that are not visited by lay persons? If there is at least one such place, then the
"zero inclusive interpretation of 'few' " is validated, as long as "few" refers to lay persons and does not include nuns.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#87  Postby mahakavi » 28 Jun 2010 03:37

"Nuns Go Places Where Few Dare to Go"
Nuns go places.
Few people dare to go (to the same) places
"places" are the same in both cases above.
Not many dare to go to the same places but few(some) do.
Not everybody does but some dare.
Draw your conclusion from this.
The basic premise does not change whatever the circumstances are.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#88  Postby mahakavi » 28 Jun 2010 03:42

>>Are there places that are visited by Nuns that are not visited by lay persons?<<
This query is ambiguous. It may be that there are places not visited by lay persons (but visited by nuns). But it may be because they (lay persons) don't care to go to such places.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#89  Postby vasanthakokilam » 28 Jun 2010 04:09

The ambiguity is resolved because in this model, Place only refers to those places that few lay persons dare to go. It does not include places they do not care to go. Think of that Place class as pre-populated with only such places.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#90  Postby mahakavi » 28 Jun 2010 06:08

Then the answer to your question is an unequivocal "no".
Even if one lay person visits besides the nuns then the definition of "few" is validated as >0.

Imagine this situation. Let us say one person dares to go. He does not end up at the destination. Let us say he gets lost or dies on the way. Only in this hypothetical case your cardinality takes a value >0 but <1. But if the attempt to go is counted as sufficient then the value is = 1.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#91  Postby vasanthakokilam » 28 Jun 2010 07:00

>Even if one lay person visits besides the nuns then the definition of "few" is validated as >0.

Of course.

My query to this ( imaginary ) database is the other way.. ( also assume once someone dares to go to a place, they do reach the place, for this discussion )

"Are there places that are visited by Nuns that are not visited by lay persons? If there is at least one such place, then the
"zero inclusive interpretation of 'few' " is validated, as long as "few" refers to lay persons and does not include nuns."
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#92  Postby mahakavi » 28 Jun 2010 09:52

>>"Are there places that are visited by Nuns that are not visited by lay persons? If there is at least one such place, then the
"zero inclusive interpretation of 'few' " is validated, as long as "few" refers to lay persons and does not include nuns."<<

The answer to the above question is "no" if the lay persons category includes women.
I don't want to give fodder to your cannon by giving you an exception where the destination would be a nunnery, in which case the word "dare" is the stopper.
If we keep on narrowing such a path, ultimately it may be possible to reach the value of zero, but only asymptotically which is what you are aiming at.

John Keats in his poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn" writes as follows:
Bold lover never never canst thou kiss;
Though winning near the goal--yet, do not grieve
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy kiss
For ever wilt thou love and she be fair

That is what describes the asymptotic behavior. You won't do it but keep on going.

Here equate the kiss with your cardinality value of zero.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#93  Postby vasanthakokilam » 28 Jun 2010 23:07

Nick, for whatever it is worth, I checked with a few people if the reference to 'few' includes the nuns are not. They all felt it refers to the non-nuns, the same way as I understood it.

mahakavi: Regarding asymptotic or not, I am not sure if I understand what you are saying fully but here is some context. I am not making this up to make it narrower and narrower... just a context so we do not talk about straw-man side issues that inevitably come up.

In this context, let us say the "Places" we are talking about are the battlefields and disease ridden places. Let us also assume that nuns go there routinely and lay persons in general are afraid to go there. These are all given, not subject to debate, for this purpose.

All we are doing by querying the model (database ) is to validate the statement "nuns go places where few dare to go".

First query is to provide a report that shows the number of nuns that have visited such places ( N ) and a report that shows the number of lay persons that have visited such places ( L ). A summary report is all we need, we do not even need per place statistics. As long as N is significantly greater than L, the statement is validated. That is, Nuns do go to places where few dare to go. I think we all agree on that.

The "zero inclusiveness test" is as I wrote earlier. Run a query that shows the list of places that nuns have visited and lay persons have not. If there is at least one such a place, then the zero inclusiveness test for 'few' is validated.

Just as an aside to this aside, since you showed some interest in my cardinality characterization, in knowledge representation and data models, there are constraints. Cardinality is a constraint. If you do not allow for zero lay persons to visit a place a nun has visited, then you will have a problem satisfying the constraint in this insertion scenario: When you want to populate the information for a nun who has just visited a place that no lay person has visited yet. It is one of those insertion anomalies that knowledge representation and data modelers worry about.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#94  Postby Nick H » 29 Jun 2010 00:40

Unfortunately, your nun example is a piece of clumsy, if not bad, English. We can't define a word in such a context. I'd recommend you to stick with earlier examples such as "few would support...".

My further random thought is...

If we mean none, we say none, but, if we mean one, we say one. Does this mean that "few" is not greater than zero, but greater than one?

Given the possibility of the comparative and superlative, fewer and fewest, in certain circumstances "few" might be said to start at four!

So many academics here... can't someone come up with a professor of English? :)
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#95  Postby mahakavi » 29 Jun 2010 01:38

I am a little weary of chasing a straw man argument.
In a previous post I gave several literary examples from poets and the Bible to show how "few" is used to denote a value greater than zero (actually more than 1).
Besides, the prevalence of "fewer" and "fewest" indicates that "few" can NEVER be zero lest the comparative and superlative terms would mean negative numbers. If few means 0 person, then fewer would mean -1, -2, -3 ..... persons. Shall we call them anti-persons? To traverse that sequence from the positive side, one has to disappear (at zero value) and reemerge on the other side as an anti-person.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#96  Postby mahakavi » 29 Jun 2010 01:43

Nick H wrote:So many academics here... can't someone come up with a professor of English? :)


We need an English professor in the company of nuns. :grin:
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#97  Postby arasi » 29 Jun 2010 02:28

As much as we need Keats with all his poetic license :)

Please consider this a remark of an unlettered spectator who tried to listen in but could make neither head nor tail out of it all--which makes me wonder if it's all scientific stuff in the guise (habit) of a nun. Somehow, a nun moving about in her cumbersome habit in hot and humid weather (where some of us live) is disconcerting!
Before one of you says "off with you!", I plead guilty--none of my business, of course. But then, r_t is expected to reappear soon and it will get more intense, perhaps.
I can hear someone murmuring: kollan paTTaRaiyil IKkenna vElai? (What business has a fly in a smithy?). Well, then let me just be a fly on the wall!
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#98  Postby vasanthakokilam » 29 Jun 2010 03:29

mahakavi: You need not get weary.... This is all for fun and not for some earth shattering consequence, so do not get weary. And we actually stopped. The tail of the discussion is on some geeky epistemological stuff. Most people do not think about it at this level since the construction of the sentence is about emphasis on the character of nuns.

Just one last thing... You keep saying "If few means 0 person,".. No one is saying that... All we are talking about is the edge case of "Does 'few' include 0 person?"

May be there is a possibility of a middle ground here. Colloquially it can extend to zero under the specific conditions I have outlined before even if the Dictionary, English teachers and English professors specify otherwise. I would not venture characterizing that colloquial usage as right or wrong. Just to test this informally, I asked a few people around me. All of them said that they would use few even if there is a chance of it being zero. Again, for whatever such informal data collection is worth!! You all can try it with a few people around you :)
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#99  Postby cmlover » 29 Jun 2010 03:55

VK
I am with you on the interpretation
P(few =0) >0
Thus few has a probabilty distribution on natural numbers including zero. The highest probability density rests on a number depending on the context. It can even be a large number if the universe is much bigger. As Nick pointed out few can be 10000 in the context of a million or billion.
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Re: Discussion on the use of "Few"

#100  Postby mahakavi » 29 Jun 2010 04:53

>>Well, then let me just be a fly on the wall!<<

There is a danger here. If a swatter is also nearby the fate of the fly is predictable!
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