2020 minus 45: Lots of nice…

Posted: 17 November 2019 in 2020 minus, language
Tags: ,

No, sorry, if you’re looking for lots of nice things in here, I’ve misled you. Oops.

Not entirely my fault, but yeah, given the Saturday Smiles and the occasional “here are some nice things” posts, it wouldn’t be unexpected that there’d be below this paragraph some YouTube videos of hedgehogs stretching. Or puggles, baby echidna.

Or even a cute video of babies on trains going through tunnels.

Ok. I don’t mean that.

Although it is really cute.


(I mean, they are cute, aren’t they? Really cute.)

No, moving on.

My English teacher hated her pupils using two words: “nice”, and “lots”.

She figured it was lazy to use those words and that when writing her pupils should exercise and express their vocabularies in order to find better, more accurate words.

At the time, I didn’t think she was correct. There are times when nice and lots just work, particularly in dialogue, because people use those words, whether or not you want them to.

As I got older, I kind of saw the wisdom in what she was forcing her pupils to do.

And now I’ve reached the age of 55 and hope like hell she wouldn’t still caution against using “nice” as I’ve come to appreciate that it’s a much underrated attribute. I can’t wholly define niceness, but I absolutely would apply it to many people I know, and many people with whom I interact.

My local doctor is professional, courteous, friendly and… just plain nice. Part of the reason I continue to have her as my doctor is, of course, the professionalism and courtesy and friendliness. Part of the reason I like her, however, is because she’s nice.

But “lots”? Yeah, there I have some sympathy with her, especially when you consider its brother: many.

What does many actually mean?

As always, best to start with the dictionary:

Right, so no bloody use at all.


What sparked this was seeing, lots (naah), many (naah), ok, several (better) uses of the word.

Primarily, in the “many Jews support Jeremy Corbyn” claim offered by his supporters.

Whichever definition you use above, it’s not true. Hell, a survey suggested that 87% of British jews actively think he’s personally antisemitic, while only 6% actively think he’s not. (Whichever you go by, while there are undoubtedly jewish people who support Corbyn, they equally unquestionably form an entirely unrepresentative sample of the Jewish population in the UK.)

But the ‘problem’ is wider than purely political.

If it’s number based, and you say anything over, I dunno, 1 million is “many”, then you’re saying that “many Americans” could apply to ⅓ of a % of the population.

If it’s solely % based, then you’re saying that – using America again – that 10m Americans (only 3% of the population) aren’t “many Americans”.

What would “many Londoners” mean? There are roughly 10m people in London. Is 1m Londoners ‘many Londoners’? Is 20% of them? 40%?

There are 200 countries in the world.

Are 150 ‘many countries? Is it solely the absolute number?

Or are 30% of countries “many”? Only 90 or so.

I don’t know. And the ambiguities of language, while something I ordinarily like, sometimes piss me off.

Can something both be “many” and entirely unrepresentative sample of the population?

Can something be both “many” and “few”? Apparently so.

I’m forced to conclude that yes, it can. To both.

There are, according to reports, almost 19m millionaires in the US. If it’s numbers alone, then “many Americans are millionaires”. But also, given that 19.m is only 6% of the population, also fair to say “few Americans are millionaires”.

For clarity’s sake, I’m obliged to a journalist friend of mine, Stu Nathan, who when I posed the above to him, suggested “proportionately few Americans are millionaires”.

I’m obliged, Stu. Genuinely.

But it does rest upon the intention of the writer to be… clear. Rather than asserting a point which they believe rests upon its own weight, rather than the mere assertion of it.

The only things I can, fairly, conclude I think are:

  1. ‘Many’ has to be a combination of numbers and proportion

  2. I should use ‘proportionately’ if I’m using %

  3. people bullshit a lot.

Oh bugger it, have some cute puppies.

Lots of them.

Something else, tomorrow…

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