“Several”

GroupDots.jpgApparently I’m wrong. And I’ve been wrong for a while.

Here’s what: one is “one”. Two is “a couple.” Three is “a few,” and somewhere around six or seven is “several.”

Turns out that’s wrong.

According to Merriam-Webster,

sev·er·al adj ˈsev-rəl, ˈse-və-
2a : more than one
b : more than two but fewer than many

So three is “several.” And seven might be “many.”

I have spent the bulk of my life – I don’t know when I first used “several”… “Don’t touch my several Star Wars figures”? – not only misusing the word but judging others for using it too liberally to describe just a little more than a couple.

Well, “misusing” might be too strong. Six might still be several. “Limiting its lower bound,” let’s say, which is a lesser crime and no one is coming for me in a linguistic squad car. (Which would look like what exactly? A Prius? No – a Volt. With a supercilious air. Like mine when I read “several incidents” and find out the journalist means “three.”)

Isn’t “a few” three or four? Doesn’t “several” imply at least seven, given that they share almost all the same letters? And how is that not infallible logic? I didn’t take Latin, but wasn’t there something in third grade, or second, about root words? I think I’m right about this. Really. Someone back me up here.

And, even if it isn’t technically inaccurate, isn’t referring to three of something as “several” kind of an overstatement? If you can use “several” to describe anything from barely more than a few all the way up to, say, twelve, isn’t that like saying “I told you several times not to eat that crayon,” when really this is only the third time just now and who doesn’t want to suck on colorful wax, so back off already, I’m waterproofing my teeth?

All right: I’m soooo sorry if I have inaccurately judged you in the past for using “several” inaccurately when really I was wrong.

Sort of. We both know I’m kind of right still about that overdoing it thing. Kind of.

OK not. But give me a break: “several” to mean “more than one”? Really? “We owned several cars,” when we had a 1986 Corolla and a ’92 Camry? Really? Really???

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One Comment on ““Several””

  1. carlO
    April 28, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    I think the technical definition of several is kind of archaic, deriving from things like “joint and several liability” where the idea is just that there’s more than one. Regardless, it’s useful for cover letters where you can say “…on behalf of several clients” when there’s really only 1.5 clients involved.

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