Re: the word "few"

Subject: Re: the word "few"
From: John Wilcox <jwilcox -at- tcsi -dot- com>
To: Techwr-l List <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 12 Nov 1999 13:18:29 -0800

John Wilcox wrote:
> A friend sent me a picture of a Hearts game he had just played. He
> noted that he "ran a few hands" to win. I shot back, "Aha!" (See, we
> always edit one another.) "You said 'a few' but you only ran it
> twice!" He contended that "few" means two or more. I checked two
> dictionaries, both of which, to my surprise, concurred with him, that
> few means an indeterminate small number, but at least two. But I also
> noted that I'd never seen or heard it used to mean only two, always
> three or more. I concluded, "So you have authority on your side, but
> I have consensus on mine." Now he has issued a challenge: he wants to
> hear a real consensus. So, how do YOU use the word? Does it mean at
> least two or at least three? Have you ever seen or heard it used to
> mean three?
> Please answer off-list, and I'll report the summary. Thank you! And
> hey, this guy's not even a tech writer or editor, "just" a software
> tester! So our honor is at stake!

The votes are in. The people have spoken. Which means, of course, that
we don't have a definitive answer.:-) But at least we have a lot bigger
majority than in any political election.

40 people voted for the "at least 3" category. 6 people voted for "at
least 2." (*One vote in each column came from the same person, who uses
few for 3 in technical situations, but 2 personally. This person works
at a large software house in Redmond, too. Hmmm.) (And then there was
the one responder who took unkindly to me using the bandwidth for such a
purpose but apparently thought it was OK to use it for flaming. I
apologize to that person for having taken up a nanosecond of his CPU
time and 1 Kb of temporary disk space.)

Here's a monkey wrench: Suppose we have a stadium. It's packed with
50,000 fans. If it is reported that "a few people were being rowdy,"
it's probably not 2 or 3, but more like a hundred, n'est-ce pas? So
maybe the answer is "it's all relative."

Threads like this and the PB&J exercise sure bring out the differences
among us TWs (and people in general).


John Wilcox -- Senior Technical Writer
TCSI Corp. -- Bothell, WA 425-487-8594

the word "few": From: John Wilcox

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