how to say this?

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Sun Aug 9 16:21:43 UTC 2009

I see no problem with using "party" when asking the question, even if you
accept a rule that "party" must be more than one. The host/hostess is
attempting to find out if the patron is alone or if others will be joining

And the use of "table" in "table of five" and similar phrases doesn't strike
me as an avoidance of "party." It strikes me as a use of restaurant jargon.
Restaurant staff refer to "tables," usually with a number to indicate
location, as in "table six left a lousy tip" to refer to parties. So a jump
from "table six seats four" or "do we have an open table" to "table of five"
is natural.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Jonathan Lighter
Sent: Sunday, August 09, 2009 8:36 AM
Subject: Re: how to say this?

Once again you're using reason when people's diction and prejudice have very
little to do with it.

What makes you think that the person who framed the question could not have
framed it on the basis of semantic dissonance?

We live in a world where "moist" is now regarded as offensive, and where at
least one linguist explains it by the presence of /oy/. Or so it is

Let's not forget the students who write "thats" instead of the "whose" in
relation to an inanimate object "because 'who' is only for people."

In that cultural context, some semantic dissonance between the two senses of
"party" - to the extent that the inquirer would not apply "party" to lone
diner - seems plausible to me.


On Sun, Aug 9, 2009 at 10:17 AM, Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at STANFORD.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: how to say this?
> On Aug 8, 2009, at 9:21 AM, Jon Lighter wrote:
> >
> > Deep in my soul I do believe that whoever framed the cited question
> > avoided
> > the word "party" from a perceived dissonance between "party" in the
> > more
> > usual sense and the concept of "party of one" and maybe even "...of
> > two,"
> > irrespective of established usage.
> this strikes me as very far-fetched, given the grossly different
> semantics; the "party" of "give a party" is an event noun, but the
> "party" of "party of one", etc. is a collective noun.
> > The youthful hosts/hostesses I interact with often ask, "And how
> > many at
> > your table this evening?" or "How many will be dining with you/us this
> > evening?" Etc. They also call for "Table for one/ two/ five," more
> > often (I
> > tend to believe) than "Party of...." That's not say that "party" is
> > on the
> > way out,
> note that i offered the formulation with "party" as *a* (semantically
> coherent) way of framing the question, not as *the* way.
> > but it might be interesting to look into this possible dissonance
> > as a contributor to incipient usage change.
> you seem to be claiming that "how many are in your party today?" and
> the like are ambiguous.  i don't see it, even out of context; the
> preposition "in" pretty much excludes the event reading of "party".
> and in context there's no possible effective ambiguity.
> arnold
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