Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Communication breakdown.

(or "Struggling for Content" - to quote 'someone' reading over my shoulder.)

I've always thought the English language could be pretty ambiguous, but I didn't realise that two people (who were married!) could have such a vastly different understanding over a general term used to estimate quantity. (And only discover this after more than 20 years together!)

We had a BIG debate in this household tonight. I have to add here that it ran along gender lines, (which means that he was outvoted by 4 to 1!), although that probably wouldn't be relevant in a larger scale sample. It does make me wonder (as I do occasionally) what planet he is from! ( I thought it was only Mars!)

It started when he took exception to my "under-valuation'"of our triplet bike with a post I made on a tandem bikes discussion forum. We are concerned about a change of plans on this Big Ride we are going on in March; an almost surreptitious change we picked up on their website in the past week suddenly has all bikes being put on trucks to be transported over a particular unsealed, and steep, section of road which was previously advertised as a choice to ride. Our beef with it is that there is no way we want to chuck our (new) triplet on a truck where it might get scratched and damaged. Despite getting a bit of a bargain with it, replacement cost would probably hit around 10K (aussie dollars). Not wanting to be specific I just said that the bike was worth 'several thousand dollars'. It got the message across that it was valuable. I thought.

"It's worth way more than that!!" he said.

"Yeah, yeah.. so, let's not split hairs, I was generalising... to give the picture that it's an expensive bike we don't want scratched."

"But get real, we paid more than $3,000 for it!"

"Three thousand?... I said several."

"Yeah, well, several is around three."

"No, no, no", the rest of us chorused. "It's more like six.. seven... eight... "

And we kept arguing back and forth, and will probably never agree! The girls and I reckon a couple is 2, a few is 3 or 4, some is around 4... and several is more than that.. say 5 - 10."

Of course I jumped onto Google, and discovered that many have been 'here' before, and the same disagreements ensue. A dictionary doesn't really help - "More than two, but fewer than many". (Now define many!)

My conclusion from my browsing is that those general words we use for quantity do depend on context and the spin you are trying to impart.. (I don't know what other non-specific quantitative word I could have used! The next one up is 'many'!)

Still, even with that in mind, this ambiguity in our language could conceivably lead to some greater misunderstandings (and even let downs!) than we had here tonight. If not with interpretation of quantity, then over what constitutes worthy blogging material. (Like he's an expert!)

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Back in the day, we had generalized terms for the size of parties...a gaggle, a herd, a flock, etc...each had an inherent number attached and I never figured it out.

So - yes - define "many" :)
Many is more than less.

To me many is a big number, although when anyone uses it I tend to ask for a firm number seeing as it does have so many interpretations.

35 years of living together and husband and I still don't speak the same language on some things.

It never ceases to amaze me and you never truly get used to it.
I'm with you. Several is more than a few and less than alot. Alot is more than 10 (in the case of pizza), or more than 100 (in the case of peanuts), it's size dependent. Several has always been (to my mind) somewhere between 5 and 10, so I think you're right.
Girrrrl, you are so right!
A couple is 2, a few is three of four, several is 5-10 and alot is more than your could be bothered to count. Men...sheesh!
Ah gave me a well needed laugh. And reminded me of the Blackadder episode which goes along the lines of Blackadder asking Baldrick to add 2 beans plus 2 beans and he says "some beans" or "many beans." Ok, it's "some beans", I googled it and I tell you Wikipedia has EVERYTHING. It was the first link that came up too.

To me, a couple is two, a few is three but several is more ambiguous. If I can blank out the fact that I've read your post and imagine you said it cost several thousand to me, I'd probably think 3 to 5 thousand in my head.

As for blog topics, heck in my experience, the more trivial the topic, the more we get worked up about it and the more discussion you would get.

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