A couple of days

This is a discussion thread · 26 replies
1 2 3
Patok:
I have the following question - does "a couple of days" mean /exactly/ two days in any common usage (AmE in this instance)? The reason I'm asking is this: I had told a person (an American) that I'd do something in a couple of days, and then they were upset when it didn't happen on the second day. I had always assumed that "a couple of days" means anything from two to five days, and this seems to be confirmed by a query of dictionary.com. But on the other hand, I had assumed that "fortnight" is /approximately/ two weeks, while apparently it means exactly 14 days (again by dictionary.com).
So, did the native speaker have a reason to be upset, or it's just linguistic ignorance on their part?
This thread originates from within 'usenet', and as such the content and users are not guaranteed to have been moderated by our community.
Robert Lieblich:
[nq:1]I have the following question - does "a couple of days" mean /exactly/ two days in any common usage (AmE ... dictionary.com). So, did the native speaker have a reason to be upset, or it's just linguistic ignorance on their part?[/nq]
The native speaker needs a bit of instruction in their own language. Use of "couple" to mean a small number greater than two is common and idiomatic. It's used mostly in contexts where the speaker would have used "two" instead if "exactly two" was meant. Several dictionaries on the Web confirm this, e.g.:
http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=couple (def.
4)

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/define.asp?key=17698&dict=CALD

http://www.bartleby.com/61/54/C0695400.html (def. 4)

http://www.askoxford.com/concise oed/couple?view=uk (def. 3)

http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/features/dictionary/DictionaryResults.aspx?refid=1861600851 (def. 2)
Note that none of these bothers to comment on the usage. It's so common as not to need comment.

Bob Lieblich
Case closed
This thread originates from within 'usenet', and as such the content and users are not guaranteed to have been moderated by our community.
Flying Tortoise:
[nq:1]I have the following question - does "a couple of days" mean /exactly/ two days in any common usage (AmE ... dictionary.com). So, did the native speaker have a reason to be upset, or it's just linguistic ignorance on their part?[/nq]
It would be normal to assume 'a couple of' is rather less precise than 'two'. It is effectively saying that you're not really sure how long but it will be in 2 or 3 days (5 would be stretching it!) Likewise 'fortnight' is indeed a precise period and 'a couple of weeks' not.

Of course, all terms of time are coloured by local experience. From a UK builder, 'a couple of days' means anything from a week to a year! ;c)
This thread originates from within 'usenet', and as such the content and users are not guaranteed to have been moderated by our community.
Ray O'Hara:
[nq:1]I have the following question - does "a couple of days" mean /exactly/ two days in any common usage (AmE ... dictionary.com). So, did the native speaker have a reason to be upset, or it's just linguistic ignorance on their part?[/nq]
Use few next time. The fault is yours.
This thread originates from within 'usenet', and as such the content and users are not guaranteed to have been moderated by our community.
joetaxpayer:
[nq:1]I have the following question - does "a couple of days" mean /exactly/ two days in any common usage (AmE ... dictionary.com). So, did the native speaker have a reason to be upset, or it's just linguistic ignorance on their part?[/nq]
To me, "a couple" is two, "a few" is three or more. But even a few days shouldn't turn into five, any more than "a couple co-working" coming to dinner shouldn't turn into five. JOE
This thread originates from within 'usenet', and as such the content and users are not guaranteed to have been moderated by our community.
Ray O'Hara:
[nq:2]I have the following question - does "a couple of ... be upset, or it's just linguistic ignorance on their part?[/nq]
[nq:1]To me, "a couple" is two, "a few" is three or more. But even a few days shouldn't turn into five, any more than "a couple co-working" coming to dinner shouldn't turn into five. JOE[/nq]
But bob says using "a couple" can mean any amount the user wants. Words need not mean what they mean, they mean whatever the users want them to mean.
So if he means a week when he says couple they the other party is wrong when they think the actual meaning was in play.
This thread originates from within 'usenet', and as such the content and users are not guaranteed to have been moderated by our community.
Robert Lieblich:
[nq:2]To me, "a couple" is two, "a few" is three ... couple co-working" coming to dinner shouldn't turn into five. JOE[/nq]
[nq:1]But bob says using "a couple" can mean any amount the user wants.[/nq]
False! No sane native English speaker says that. What dictionaries say, and what I reported, is that "a couple" can mean a small number greater than two. I posted links to no fewer than five such dictionaries. No one says "a couple" and means a million. (Well, almost no one. ray o'hara may well be capable of such a thing.)
[nq:1]Words need not mean what they mean, they mean whatever the users want them to mean.[/nq]
They mean what many, many users agree they mean, and that's the meaning (or group of meanings) that dictionaries report. For purposes of usage, we're all one great big aggregate Humpty Dumpty.
[nq:1]So if he means a week when he says couple they the other party is wrong when they think the actual meaning was in play.[/nq]
"Actual meaning" is a slippery concept. In proper context, the "actual meaning" of "a couple" is "a small number larger than two; a few." I'd happily argue that "a couple" never means "impenetrability, and I wouldn't expect much of a counter-argument. Words mean what people agree they mean. I'd think "seven" a bit of a stretch if I heard "a couple," but that's my approach. There's no bright line between "a couple" and "more than a couple." But there is a consensus on the basic proposition, and that's what the dictionaries report. I do believe I'm starting to repeat myself.
Obviously there's more to this. Like what's standard and what isn't. And "register." And all that sorta stuff. But those are needless complications in the case of "a couple" in the sense we're discussing.

bob
This thread originates from within 'usenet', and as such the content and users are not guaranteed to have been moderated by our community.
Ray O'Hara:
It seems there was a lack of agreement with our OP and his listener. Go to work bob and ask your collegues how many a couple means.
[nq:2]So if he means a week when he says couple they the other party is wrongwhen they think the actual meaning was in play.[/nq]
[nq:1]"Actual meaning" is a slippery concept. In proper context, the "actual meaning" of "a couple" is "a small number larger than two; a few."[/nq]
that is 4th on the definition list

1 a : two persons married, engaged, or otherwise romantically paired b : twopersons paired together

2 : PAIR, BRACE
3 : something that joins or links two things together: as a : two equal andopposite forces that act along parallel lines b : a pair of substances that in contact with an electrolyte participate in a transfer of electrons which causes an electric current to flow

4 : an indefinite small number : FEW
So you ignore the first and accepted meanings to get there.
This thread originates from within 'usenet', and as such the content and users are not guaranteed to have been moderated by our community.
Joanne Marinelli:
Gotcha! This is exactly what annoys me Bob. Conventionalism is not the modus operandi of how language works. Your arguments are too heavy-handed without recognizing the problematic aspects.
This thread originates from within 'usenet', and as such the content and users are not guaranteed to have been moderated by our community.
Show more
Live chat
Registered users can join here