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Thread: More or less?

  1. #1
    epimenides3 is offline Newbie
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    Default More or less?

    One of my friends made the following statement:

    - They refuse to denounce more than 99% of it.

    I know that he means:

    - They denounce very little of it.

    However, I think that two exactly opposite meanings are possible:

    - They denounce 97% of it, or 98% of it, or 99% of it. (This means that they denounce a lot of it)

    - However, they refuse to denounce more than 99% of it. (Because they agree with the last 1% of it).

    Look at this example:

    - He refuses to eat more than 99% of the pie.

    I think this statement is ambiguous, with two opposite meanings:

    - First meaning: He's a glutton. He will eat 97%, or 98%, or 99% of the pie, but not more (because he's full).

    - Second meaning: He's on a diet. So there is a very large piece of the pie that he's refusing to eat (more than 99% of it). But he *will* eat the other bit (less than 1%).

    Q1: Does anyone agree that these statements are ambiguous?

    Q2: If they're ambiguous, why? IMHO I think the problem arises with the "more than 99%". If the original statement had simply been:

    - They refuse to denounce 99% of it

    Now everything is clear. They denounce 1%, and they don't denounce 99%

    Similarly with the pie:

    - He refuses to eat 99% of the pie,

    This means that he eats 1%, and refuses to eat the other 99%.

    BTW: Maybe I should be asking a maths forum rather than an English forum

  2. #2
    freezeframe is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: More or less?

    Quote Originally Posted by epimenides3 View Post


    BTW: Maybe I should be asking a maths forum rather than an English forum
    I assure you, people in English, ESL, and humanities in general are fairly capable of subtracting 1 from a 100.

  3. #3
    Barb_D's Avatar
    Barb_D is online now Moderator
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    Default Re: More or less?

    I agree it's ambiguous. They won't denounce the the full100%. OR They approve of almost all of it. I can't tell with the sentence in isolation.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  4. #4
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: More or less?

    I agree that it is ambiguous - when people who are interested in how language is used sit down with time on their hands to discuss it.

    If such sentences appear in academic or political debate, especially in writing, then it is sometimes necessary to point out the possible ambiguity. In normal conversation, even at a semi-formal level, I feel that the meaning intended by the speaker wil usually be 'heard' by the listener.

    I am far from being a fan of George W Bush, but I do think that some of his slips in language in unprepared remarks were of the type that even professional linguists could make - in unprepared remarks. Ambiguity is quite easy to spot - with the advantage of distance.

  5. #5
    epimenides3 is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: More or less?

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon
    I agree that it is ambiguous
    Quote Originally Posted by Barb_DI
    I agree it's ambiguous. They won't denounce the the full100%. OR They approve of almost all of it.
    Many thanks to Barb_D and fivejedjon for their comments

    Both responders agree that the following sentence is ambiguous:

    - They refuse to denounce more than 99% of it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Barb_DI
    I can't tell with the sentence in isolation.
    Unfortunately, the actual context is probably too lengthy to discuss. However, I believe that the pie example is almost identical.

    Does anyone agree that the following sentence is *not* ambiguous:

    - He refuses to eat 99% of the pie,
    .

  6. #6
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: More or less?

    I don't agree with this as being the only possible interpretation:
    Similarly with the pie:

    - He refuses to eat 99% of the pie,

    This means that he eats 1%, and refuses to eat the other 99%.
    It could also be that he refuses to accept only 99% and wants it all (or nothing), or it could be that he has been offered 99% but refuses that as he only wants 28%. A lot depends on what has come before in the conversation:

    "You can only have 99% of the pie."
    "99% of the pie? I refuse to eat 99% of the pie. I will have it all or you can take your pie and shove it."
    etc

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