"little/few but" (was: "long from" for "far from")

Herb Stahlke hfwstahlke at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 30 02:51:32 UTC 2008

"few but" sounds strange, but couldn't "little but" be taken as a
down-toned universal?


On Sat, Nov 29, 2008 at 8:57 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "little/few but" (was: "long from" for "far from")
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 7:11 PM -0500 11/29/08, Alison Murie wrote:
>>Quoted in an ad for /The Truth of Power/ from the blurb: "Barber
>>believes, against the grain of conventional wisdom, that
>>  Clinton 'is a man   whose democratic career is long from over.'"
>>I don't think I've ever encountered this one before.
> This reminds me of a construction I've found (partly by googling,
> partly naturalistically) a lot of examples of, even though it's not
> "supposed to" occur:  _little/few but X_. (Or ditto with "except" in
> place of "but". The usual claim (going back to the 13th century, but
> independently discovered by many modern scholars) is that exceptives
> of the "but" kind can only occur with universals:  "everyone but
> you", "none but the brave", "anyone but a total idiot", etc., but not
> "someone but Bush", "many people but Obama", "most Americans but
> McCain", etc.  And presumably "Who but a total idiot..." is OK
> because it rhetorically communicates a universal negative.  But what
> then to make of
> Does poetry matter?  Few but other poets may read it.
>          --Martin Arnold, "Poets pit pens against swords", NYT 2/6/03
> Landowners could do little but accept their fate.
> With little except morbid thoughts to occupy his time,...
> ...an artful yet provocative cover for her all-Bach CD in which she
> appears to be wearing little except her violin.
> and many other examples with "little but" or "few but"?  My take on
> these is that they involve a blend of e.g. "could do little (about
> it)" + "could do nothing but accept it".
> LH
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