semantic drift: "several" = many

Herb Stahlke hfwstahlke at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jun 8 17:54:56 UTC 2008

The individuated use of "several" is still current in legal language.
My son had a roommate walk out on his part of a multi-roommate lease,
and the landlord sued the others for the walk-out's part of the lease.
 My son's lawyer pointed out to the judge that the lease contained the
wording "individually and severally" with reference to responsibility
for payment rather than "jointly and severally."  On the basis of that
the judge held that the landlord could not collect individual portions
of delinquent rent from the rest of the tenants.


On Sun, Jun 8, 2008 at 10:30 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: semantic drift: "several" = many
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 6/7/2008 08:46 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>>A reader chides the Bouolder, CO, _Camera_ for printing a letter
>>that urged patients to throw away their Prozac ("a known toxin") and
>>breathe deeply instead (June 7, 2008, p. 12A):
>>   "Not everyone benefits from talk therapy. While it can be a
>> valuable part of the process, several people still live with
>> chemical imbalances that cause anxiety."
>>   I presume that this chap learned that _several_ "means 'some'"
>> and took it from there.
>>   FWIW, ISTR I saw this once or twice in freshman writing twenty or
>> more years ago.
> I hear a resurrection of the sense "separate, distinct, particular,
> individual" --  that is, "individual people still live with ..." --
> and anticipate soon hearing from this speaker "many several":  "many
> several people still live with chemical imbalances that cause
> anxiety" works for me!  But then again, I've been reading much
> 18th-century writing recently.
> :-)
> Joel
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