Lion's Share - the ultimate usage guide

Subject: Lion's Share - the ultimate usage guide
From: dmbrown -at- brown-inc -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 18 Jun 2002 16:31:36 -0700

Martyn Perry wrote:
> Yes. The lion's share means the whole thing. See Aesop's fables--the one about
> the lion, the fox, and the wolf, I think.

No, not the whole thing. Quick check of my two dictionaries:

American Heritage: the greater or best part

Webster's New Univeral Unabridged: the largest part or share, especially a disproportionate portion: "The eldest son received the lion's share of the estate." [1780-90; probably after Aesop's fable in which the lion claimed all the spoils of a hunt]

...and another:

OED: the largest or pricipal portion

...and my usage guides:

Webster's: A clutch of commentators...complain that "lion's share" is frequently misused [based on the logic that] "as conceived by Aesop, [it] is all or almost all, not merely the majority or the larger part." [But] "lion's share" was entered in Webster 1864 with the definition "the larger part" and an explanatory note identifying Aesop's fable as the source of the phrase. [Also familiar with the Aesop fable] the 1890 editor [added] "all, or nearly all" in front of the 1864 definition... The trouble with [that] treatment was that [it] represented only Aesop [who] spoke no English, of course... The moral of this tale is that usage commentators and lexicographers have to look at English usage to understand how English speakers use a term, no matter what source it comes from.

(They also cite eight examples from press and literature in which it is used as the larger portion, not the entirety.)

Evans: ...the largest or most important share.

(After pointing out that the phrase is "hackneyed"--I love that word!--Evans cites another version of the fable, in which the lion allots a quarter of the kill to the three other animals for their help in the hunt, but warns them not to touch it.)

Fowler, Follet, and Partridge don't address the issue.



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