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

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Nov 30 04:08:20 UTC 2008

At 9:51 PM -0500 11/29/08, Herb Stahlke wrote:
>"few but" sounds strange, but couldn't "little but" be taken as a
>down-toned universal?

Wouldn't that be essentially a label for what's happening?
Crucially, _little_ (like _few_) isn't a universal negative, yet
allows an exception.  Arguably, the downtoning (or attenuation) of
the universal (_no_, _none_) that permits the exceptive is precisely
what happens when that universal negative blends with something that
isn't a universal but comes close.


P.S.  There's a nice "few but" on a baseball blog that alludes to the
Dryden line below (None but the brave deserve the fair), viz.

"Few But the Braves"
( http://mikesrants.baseballtoaster.com/archives/436569.html
--in reference to teams that scored 10 or more runs in 5 consecutive
games, as the Atlanta Braves did in 2006)

A couple more:

"few but the largest corporate customers consume investment banking"

or a piece describing the Magna Carta as

"a document of great importance to both England and the American
colonies, it originally granted concessions to few but the powerful
baronial families."

>On Sat, Nov 29, 2008 at 8:57 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
>>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>  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
>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>>  The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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