Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Word Lover's Holiday Wish List ; I'm Always on the Lookout for Words with More 'Snap.'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Word Lover's Holiday Wish List ; I'm Always on the Lookout for Words with More 'Snap.'

Article excerpt

It's that time of year when I wonder how we ever got along without online wish lists. I remember Christmas shopping in the old days, when we had to trudge three miles through the snow to get to Bloomingdale's.

But I carry another wish list around in my head and keep adding to it all year long. It's a list of concepts for which I wish we had better words.

Some of them are as basic as a lot. As in, a lot of stuff. We use a lot to mean "much," but it also really means "some." How do we say beaucoup in English?

What I'm getting at is that in formal English, where a lot is really too casual, we so often go to circumlocutions like considerable ("considerable public discussion about the pipeline") or a great deal of.

We do have much, but it works mostly in the negative: "There isn't much food left in the fridge." In the affirmative, much tends to sound quaint and/or stuffy, or mock- formal: "Much merriment ensued."

For "countable" nouns, at least, there's many, which doesn't seem quite so quaint as much: "We have many possibilities to consider." (To be fair, though, many people - OK, lots of people - would say "lots of possibilities." See, even I did it - and I do it a lot.)

So maybe we should just accept a lot as perfectly correct for all occasions. But with much, you know where you stand. A lot has a certain ambiguity of meaning.

I have a lot of books around my apartment; an auctioneer has a lot of books in his warehouse, too.

They're two different kinds of lot. My lot is about muchness, maybe overmuchness. To an auctioneer, a "lot" is all in a day's work, even if he has far more actual books than I do.

Then there's "lot" in the real estate sense. "A lot is discussed at school board" was a local newspaper headline I ran across the other day. I thought maybe a controversial construction site had finally been broached for public discussion somewhere. …

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