## 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

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Rotherian
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Flexico wrote:The obvious answer being, a couple spaces go after a period.

The amount of space after a period is purely a matter of personal preference. However, more space during a period is a good idea.
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typhy
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

I've always done it as such:

Couple = 2
Few = 3-5
Several = 6-9
Handful = Literally a handful of said object, e.g. a handful of candy. I never understood it when people/survey results sometimes say 'a handful of people...' because it just doesn't quantify in my mind.

I don't really use any more measurements. Some just means an undetermined amount above one. Many implies a majority in my mind, but can simply mean a number that is larger than what would be considered average. Dozen is twelve, no exceptions. (A baker's dozen is of course thirteen.)

Rotherian wrote:
Flexico wrote:The obvious answer being, a couple spaces go after a period.

The amount of space after a period is purely a matter of personal preference. However, more space during a period is a good idea.

What you did there. I see it.

endolith
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Ok now someone make a website where we pairwise vote between which word is bigger.

for me: none < couple < few < several

DSDM wrote:As for the number of spaces after a period, typographers insist that one space is correct.

Electrical engineers - are there cases where this word does not refer to something connecting two [and only two] objects?

Like magnetic coupling between 3 coaxial coils?

CasualSax
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

A couple means "about 2" for me, but definitely not exactly two. And in case you think I'm wrong, would you rather I slept with your mom twice, or a couple of times?

EchoRomulus
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

I noticed the subtext says "a couple of friends" and says "All three of them".

Has anyone else noticed this? I don't think the "always two" rule really applies to "a couple" the way it applies to "a pair".
"In here life is beautiful." --Cabaret

J Thomas
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

I imagined getting involved in this discussion but it was just too ridiculous for me.

I kind of admire you guys who can just jump in without a thought to how you look when you do it.
The Law of Fives is true. I see it everywhere I look for it.

lunarul
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

I don't understand this discussion. Those are all subjective descriptions of quantities (or even volume in some contexts of "handful") that usually mean you don't know the actual number (or don't feel like saying it). None of those can be tied to specific numbers (except for "couple", which means two; but you can understand based on context if people use it as "few") without a clear context.
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EchoRomulus
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

I belive every word should have an agreed upon unique definition and words for indefinite volumes should have agreed upon variation.
"In here life is beautiful." --Cabaret

mattholimeau
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Randall, really? Did you have to? The punchline is that you're pissing a lot of people off? I had come to think of xkcd as better than this - albeit only slightly.

Moreover, I'm mostly upset because you're so clearly wrong! (Of course!) You bastard! Forcing everyone to chime in with their (also usually wrong) own versions.

A few is not 2 to 5, it's 3 or more, with an undefined upper bound that mainly depends on context. "Yeah, I fucked her a few times" could be three, could be twenty, depending on how much of a slut she obviously is. Clearly context sensitive.

A handful is also very context sensitive - it depends on what objects you're talking about. A handful of pennies would be about as many as I could scoop out with my own hand. (If I cared, I'd find my penny jar, take out a handful and count them - but I don't, so I won't.) This is clearly more than five. It depends what it is you have a handful of.

Several - more than two, again no clear upper bound.

A couple is two. Can anyone give any example where a "couple" is anything other than two? No, you can't, without redefining english.

So, dammit randall, and your flamebait, sucking me in, dammit.

Kemp
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Widmerpool wrote:
Kemp wrote:
Asgar wrote:So, like it or not, the usage of "couple" meaning a small indeterminate number is a couple of centuries old and well established.[citation needed]

http://tinyurl.com/cqnzv9n

In my mental image of you, you knew that reference off the top of your head. I like this image.

Also, good answer. It still means two to me. *runs*

CasualSax
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

mattholimeau wrote:A couple is two. Can anyone give any example where a "couple" is anything other than two? No, you can't, without redefining english.

When your girlfriend says that I can sleep with her a couple of times, I'm going to take the upper bound. Consider your english redefined.

(Also, two spaces after my @#\$& period. Now can anyone tell me the proper way to close a quotation when the characters are sensitive? Your new password is "aSlL;i1,k.8J..!.")

Rotherian
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

mattholimeau wrote:Several - more than two, again no clear upper bound.

Until I became interested etymology, I had considered several to mean "around seven", mistakenly thinking that they shared the same root. I've since learned that they don't even come from the same language. (Seven shares a root with the German seiben, whereas several comes from the Latin root separe.)
There are two general categories of opinion: regular opinions and informed opinions.
Please do not argue with me unless your opinion falls into the latter category.

Cletis
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

endolith wrote:
DSDM wrote:As for the number of spaces after a period, typographers insist that one space is correct.

Only if by "wrong," you mean "right." One space for proportional-width fonts, and two spaces for mono-spaced fonts -- which are used so rarely in modern publishing that saying "Always use one space" is close enough to correct that it scarcely matters.

orthogon
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

da Doctah wrote:So how many is a "pair" of scissors, then?

"Pair" was itself used for comic effect in Withnail & I thus: "Two quadruple whiskies and a pair of pints".

Now I think about it, I think it's funny because "pair" can only really be used for things that actually come in pairs, whereas pints can be obtained in any integer or (in the UK) half-integer quantities.

Another option for two is "a brace of ...", which also invokes Antiquated Linguistics.
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

puddleglum
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Really surprised so many people seem unfamiliar with the usage of a couple to mean a loose two, with the exact quantity being unknown or unimportant. Just one example:

"I had a couple beers with Bryan last night."

I would even say "We had a couple beers" if Bryan and I shared part or all of a six-pack.

The "a couple hundred" example someone else gave is also good. I spent a couple hundred bucks on gas last month.

MarkkuK
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

If you put a couple of spaces after a period, eventually your text will end up in some xhtml-based format in which they will be converted into gratuitous nbsp entities, resulting in some validity fanatic tracking you down and killing you.

Think of your children. Don't put more than one space after a period, except in situations where you can justify yourself to the gun-toting fanatic. (Protip: Code tags will mostly appease them. Mostly.)

jackal
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Vangor wrote:Once you come to an agreement on how many items a couple, a few, several, etc., are, ask them if the same holds true for minutes. "Oh, I'll be there in a few minutes." To me, this indicates how many five minute sets, such as a couple minutes is 10 minutes.

I think my subconscious mind has known that for my entire life. I always wondered why whenever I thought or said "a couple minutes" it turned into about 10.

Aelfyre
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

glasnt wrote:Arg, head explode. He's trolling now, I swear.

much as I hate to admit it i agree here. A couple is 2, by definition. Two spaces after a period, by preference. Several to me has always been more in the 5-11 range.
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cbmonty30
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

According to the introduction song for the Fresh Prince of Bel Air: "a couple of guys (who were up to no good)", refers to five people.

This being the most credible source on the internet, I rest my case.

kalvdans
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

One lecture, we had a guest professor that teached us how to do approximate calculations in your head. For example, he calculated the size of atom by checking how much the school stairs had been worn down, assuming each footstep removes one layer of atoms from the stone. (meters of stone worn down) / (number of students in school) / (number of days of a year) / (school age in years) = (size of an atom).
He rounded all factors to the nearest power of ten to make it easy to calculate. BUT, to get better precision he also used the notion of "few", "It is a few hundred days in a year". And when you multiply two items with "few" in them, remove the "few" and increase the exponent instead. A few thousands students times a few hundred days in a year = one million student-years.

So, by his definition, a few = √10 = 3.1623.

johnmarkos
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

"A handful" is a measurement of volume, not quantity. The quantity depends on the granularity of the thing in your hand: how many can fit?

johnmarkos
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

I noticed an earlier objection that we use "handful" to describe a quantity of things that cannot fit in a hand, because they're too large or intangible.

I think in those cases, handful expresses a kind of ambiguity: it's more than one, but not a huge number. Using the phrase "a handful" to describe more than, say, 2^7 things would surprise me, unless the person was talking about sand or dust.

Cletis
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Aelfyre wrote:Two spaces after a period, by preference.

It may also be your preference to use a comma where a semicolon is required, or to use an apostrophe to indicate plurality, or to use double-quotes to indicate emphasis. But all of these, including using two spaces to separate sentences typed in a proportional-width font, are incorrect uses of punctuation.

Coyne
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

I have to respectfully challenge with some of these.

A couple is 3±1; we almost agree there.

A few is 5±3, a bit more.

I was taught that a handful is however many that fit comfortably in the cup of the palm, which varies quite a bit depending on what we're talking about. For roofing nails, 15±6; for pennies, 18±10; for cherries, probably 5±2.

Several is 6±3; as I was taught, never just 2.

But, on second thought, since the lower limit of all of these is still first order of magnitude, we agree.
In all fairness...

Widmerpool
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Kemp wrote:In my mental image of you, you knew that reference off the top of your head. I like this image.

Me too!
johnmarkos wrote:"A handful" is a measurement of volume, not quantity. The quantity depends on the granularity of the thing in your hand: how many can fit?

"They found themselves a mere handful of men, on a savage coast, surrounded by hostile tribes" (Astoria, by Washington Irving (1783-1859), Ch 12).

"Handful" doesn't just mean "the quantity that would fill your hand" - though that's obviously the origin of it. By metaphorical extension it also means "a relatively small number or quantity". Google "a handful of..." with pretty much any abstract noun you like. You'll find, for example, nearly 100,000 hits for "a handful of parameters".

I think we could all do with a pinch of perspective here.
Last edited by Widmerpool on Mon Jun 18, 2012 7:14 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.
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Editer
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

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Mirkwood
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

In the intro to The Fresh prince of Bel Air, we see that "a couple of guys, who were up to no good" is no less than five people. If there had been only two of them, surely our titular hero's mother would not have said "You're movin' with your auntie and uncle in Bel Air", and we would have missed out on a lot.

Yoduh
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Aelfyre wrote:
glasnt wrote:Arg, head explode. He's trolling now, I swear.

much as I hate to admit it i agree here. A couple is 2, by definition. Two spaces after a period, by preference. Several to me has always been more in the 5-11 range.

only by 1 definition, but there are a couple of others you're forgetting about.

Fire Brns
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

faunablues wrote:What. Clearly:

a couple = 2
a few = 3
some = 4
several = 5
"a number" = ???

NO ONE ARGUE

I'm not reading 4 pages of semantics. I agree with this, word for word this was going to be my post.
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jpers36
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Mirkwood wrote:In the intro to The Fresh prince of Bel Air, we see that "a couple of guys, who were up to no good" is no less than five people.

See, I'd write that down to unreliable narrator instead.

jonbly
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Several definitely doesn't belong in that list.

Also, when considering this kind of issue, it's important to be clear on whether one is the owner of the collection of small yummy comestibles, or the moocher thereof.

webzter_again
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

A couple (as a unit of quantity) = 2. Source: My grandpa always got malted milk balls that came two in a pack. He called them 'couples'. Example usage: "Go get us each a couple for a snack."

A couple minutes (as a measure of time, normal) = generally about five minutes and not usually more than ten. Used to instill a false sense of hope in the person waiting. Source: Receiving and giving end more than once. Example usage: "I'll be ready in a couple of minutes, I just need to finish this level."

A couple minutes (as a measure of time, MMORPG) = Generally about an hour. Used as a feeble attempt to install a false sense of hope in the person waiting. This will work once. For some definition of 'work'. Source: I used to play MMOs. Example usage: "We can go eat in a couple of minutes, I just need to finish this raid and we're almost at the last boss."

A couple three: 2+, depending on context. always less than a lot. For example, "I just saw a couple three deer out back" is three. "Go get you and me a couple three beers from the fridge" is, clearly, four since you wouldn't grab just one beer for each of you and you wouldn't split a third beer. Source: Grew up in Michigan where the phrase is popular. Example usage: "I already told you a couple three times when we were going to my folks house!"

A few: 3-5. Used when you don't want to be overly specific. Example usage: "Mom, can I have a few cookies?"

A handful (food): Used when you don't want to be overly specific while asking to mooch goodies. You're hoping the owner assumes a small amount while you're secretly flexing your hand to grab as many as possible. Example usage: "Hey Bob, can I have a handful of your M&M's?"

A handful (chores): A quantity that will comfortably in your hand. Such as a handful of screws. This will always be several items fewer than is needed to complete the task. Example usage: "Son, go get me a handful of screws"

A handful (breasts): A pleasing amount of mammary tissue.

A handful (other): A small quantity greater than a few but less than needed. Example usage: "At the Battle of Thermopylae, King Leonidas held off the Persians with a handful of men"

Several: Well now, aren't you getting fancy.

MarkkuK
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

"A couple three"

Haha, Michigan has (along with Minnesota) the largest concentration of Finns in America, and this is obviously a translation from "pari kolme" which is AFAIK unique to Finnish and translates to "couple three".

anian
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

Missed my favourite indeterminate number: umpteen.

I used to think it was a different name for thirteen, only when I got older did I find out it just meant "many".

webzter_again
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

MarkkuK wrote:"A couple three"

Haha, Michigan has (along with Minnesota) the largest concentration of Finns in America, and this is obviously a translation from "pari kolme" which is AFAIK unique to Finnish and translates to "couple three".

Nice, today I learned something. And, to give some context, I grew up in upper michigan. According to Wikipedia:

There are still Swedish- and Finnish-speaking communities in many areas of the Upper Peninsula today. People of Finnish ancestry make up 16% of the peninsula's population. The U.P. is home to the highest concentration of Finns outside Europe and the only counties of the United States where a plurality of residents claim Finnish ancestry.

emphasis mine.

MarkkuK
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

The U.P. is home to the highest concentration of Finns outside Europe

Had to check my facts before piping up, was influenced by phraseology witnessed.

Davo
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

A couple is generally two, unless explaining to the missus how many drinks you had last night- (I only had a couple...)
A few is 3-4
Several is 4-7
A dozen is 12 /13 depending on your occupation.

However, in the UK we also have:

'Quite a few' = anything up to about 50
'A dozen or so' = between 12 and about 30
'One or two' = Depends on context, could be thousands or even millions (there's one or two stars out tonight)

Ton = 100, especially money £100, or speed 100mph ='ton-up'. Not to be confused with hundredweight which is 1/20 of a ton!

asa
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

couple = 2
(few = 3 to 5)<several<many<lots<throng<legion*

* source: heroes of might and magic 2

NukemHill
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

A couple = 2 (sometimes up to 5)

I guess that really depends on how open the relationship is, yes?

*ducks*

acd
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### Re: 1070: "Words for Small Sets"

http://hyperdictionary.com/search.aspx?define=couple

Meaning of COUPLE
Pronunciation: 'kupul

WordNet Dictionary

Definition:

[n] a pair who associate with one another; "the engaged couple"; "an inseparable twosome"
[n] a pair of people who live together; "a married couple from Chicago"
[n] something joined by two equal and opposite forces that act along parallel lines
[n] two items of the same kind
[n] a small indefinite number; "he's coming for a couple of days"
[v] bring two objects, ideas, or people together; "This fact is coupled to the other one"; "Matchmaker, can you match my daughter with a nice young man?"; "The student was paired with a partner for collaboration on the project"
[v] make love; "Birds mate in the Spring"
[v] form a pair or pairs; "The two old friends paired off"

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