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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Couple more Words about Couple

Further to yesterday's post, my German teacher points out that in German, the word for "pair", Paar, is also used to mean both exactly two and an unspecified small number. But because German capitalizes its nouns, it has a nifty solution for distinguishing between the two: ein Paar is two, and ein paar is a few. Not, of course, that this helps in speech, so a German hankering for jellybeans would be no further ahead with me than an English speaker. And, although the English Language did use to capitalize all Nouns, I don't think we English Speakers and Jellybean Eaters are likely to revive this Practice. Some American usages originating in the 19th century were in fact influenced by German, so it is entirely possible that the use of "couple" to mean "a few" can be attributed to this too.

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.