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I don’t remember when it was (I listen mostly on podcasts) but someone had called in to ask a question about “a couple, few and several.”
The caller said his family translated it this way. Couple was 2, a few was 5 because it sounded like the word five and several was 7 because it sounded like seven. I could not believe that Martha and Grant didn’t disagree with him. What do you translate these words to mean?
I have polled a several people and we have all agreed upon the following:
Couple – 2
Few – 3 or 4, but usually 3
Several – 5 to 8
Just had a fun and lively discussion on this subject. Co-worker insisted that a “few” meant exactly three. No more, no less. “Several” was more than a few, and while it was not “many,” there’s no exact number.
We joked that she must have learned to count, “One, two, few, four, several, many, many, many.”
Dictionary says several is “more than two, but not many.” A different dictionary says few is “not many.”
Back in 1948, Fibber McGee gave the definitive conversion chart for this set of units, in a conversation with the little girl next door……..
Teeny: Mister, what’s a scad? Willie Toops says his uncle has scads of money and I can’t argue with him because I don’t know how much a scad is.
Fibber: You know what an oodle is, sis?
Teeny: No, but everybody says my dog has oodles of fleas.
Fibber: Exactly. There are several scads in an oodle; plenty of oodles to a gob; lots of gobs to a heap; batches of heaps to a load; and multifarious loads to a galore. Understand?
Teeny: Well, no.
Fibber: Well, let’s put it this way. Suppose you had several oodles of peanuts. Somebody gives you a heap more. How many scads would you have?
Teeny: Loads, I betcha.
Fibber: Loads of scads, or lots of gobs, or a batch of heaps.
a couple = a pair
a few = a bunch
several = a passel
It seems everybody agrees that a couple is two. I’d say that it’s an inexact two. The famous fifteen cent burger came dressed with a couple of dill chips, which is to say usually rwo, but once in a while three tint onesir one really huge pickle.
I would argue that both “a few” and “several” mean three, maybe four, sometimes even five. The difference is whether you’re trying to maximize or minimize the quantity. He wasn’t drunk, he says; he didn’t drink a whole six-pack, he had a few beers. His mother-in-law says a cold beer on a hot afternoon is fine, but he didn’t stop at one, he had several.
A bunch is a comfortable handful. not a hand crammed full. A bunch of dandelions is too many to use a Pepsi bottle as a vase, but not enough to need a mason jar.
A passel is too many to count, unless it is really important. You have a passel of snap beans in those eight rows you planted, but sand on a beach or stars in the sky are too many for a passel. If you have a passel of kids, you don’t count them at suppertime, you just notice if there are any empty chairs; you do count them on April 15, though.
Paging George Gamow!