1070: Words for Small Sets

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Words for Small Sets
If things are too quiet, try asking a couple of friends whether "a couple" should always mean "two". As with the question of how many spaces should go after a period, it can turn acrimonious surprisingly fast unless all three of them agree.
Title text: If things are too quiet, try asking a couple of friends whether "a couple" should always mean "two". As with the question of how many spaces should go after a period, it can turn acrimonious surprisingly fast unless all three of them agree.

[edit] Explanation

The noun "couple" means "exactly two items of the same kind". The comic/chart is satirizing how laymen sometimes use the word "couple" interchangeably with words like "few" or "several", which in this context mean "comparatively small but definitely greater than one". It is also satirizing arguments about the relative meaning of phrases like "few" and "several" (some people will argue that "several" should mean more than "few", while others will argue the opposite or that it doesn't matter), making this comic nerd troll bait; Randall is attempting to "troll" or get a certain group of people fired up by taking an unpopular side of the argument. To be certain the side he picked is an unpopular one, Randall has made up his own by proposing a "compromise" more likely to infuriate everyone than to make any side happy (a technique he's used before). The comic's claim to "clear things up" also makes it similar to the "definitive standard" proposed in 394: Kilobyte.

The title text is another troll. Randall says "Try asking a couple of friends [...] unless all three of them agree," which implies that a couple means exactly three, a very unpopular view!

There could also be a pun in the title text: it could be construed as asking whether it would be a bad idea for a couple (that is, two people in a romantic relationship) to partake in a ménage à trois. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea as long as all three of them agree.

[edit] Transcript

Just to clear things up:

A few Anywhere from 2 to 5
A handful Anywhere from 2 to 5
Several Anywhere from 2 to 5
A couple 2 (but sometimes up to 5)
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Discussion

I disagree on "A Handful" and "Several". A Handful should be about 4 to 7 and several should be 6 to 8, averaging about 7, which sounds just like several. The other two are within the range that makes sense to me. Also, check out how he sneaks "a couple of friends" and "all three of them" into the image text very sneakily. User:Jeff - From the blog

Dude, that's the point. You've been trolled. --Jimmy C (talk) 11:43, 4 December 2012 (UTC)

Several is two or more.

A handful to me is just that. A dozen berries, one hand grenade, 2-3 sticks of TNT, a bird (2 in a bush else where gives 3) or a wild blonde (more than 1 way to be a handful I guess). DruidDriver (talk) 07:09, 17 January 2013 (UTC)

English isn't my natural language, but how common is the word "acrimonious"? Should it be explained? 108.162.254.56 03:40, 2 February 2014 (UTC)

Online dictionaries should help. I'm using some addons to my Firefox to help me. The simplest meaning for "acrimonious" should be "bitter", but this is still one of those words hard to describe. --Dgbrt (talk) 21:56, 2 February 2014 (UTC)

I'm inclined to interpret the hover text as him saying that a couple does mean more than two. A couple of friends, and then all three of them. However, the entry does not agree with me. Thoughts? 173.245.52.28 09:10, 10 March 2014 (UTC)

My guess is that the entry interpreted "all three of them agree" as "your couple of friends agree with you". I think Randell would sooner troll than use inconsistent grammar so, I also think Randell was using couple to mean 3 friends. Who PhD (talk) 13:58, 9 April 2014 (UTC)
There is a similar ambiguity in German, where "ein paar", which literally means "a couple", is used to say "a few". In Italian the ambiguity is even stronger, as certain regions tend to use "un paio" only in the literal sense, while others mean it figuratively. A friend of mine came from Tuscany to Sardinia and one day told me: "I asked for a couple of cigarette packs, and the clerk said ok, how many? and I said, a couple, and he answered yes, how many precisely, and I had to say, uh, two? What an idiot". I had to explain to her that where I live it was not THAT straightforward that couple == 2 --108.162.229.31 08:01, 5 June 2014 (UTC)
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