Sunday, August 08, 2004

English is Strange

If I ask how many people showed up at a party, an answer might be 'a few.' Another answer could be, 'quite a few.' The first phrase means a small number, while the latter means a comparatively large number.

It follows that the meaning of 'quite a few' is not built up from the meanings of 'quite' and 'a few.' Equivalently, the meanings of 'a few' and 'quite a few' have no common meaning element. 'Quite a few' functions as a semantic unit. Its meaning cannot be arrived at by piecing together the meanings of 'quite' and 'a few.' It must be learned as the unit it is: 'quite-a-few.'

I rejoice in being a native speaker of this irregular and illogical language. Irregular and illogical as she is, she is my thought's alma mater, and I love her dearly.