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I expected "light smattering of applause" to mean "few applause" because "light" has the meaning of "small, not heavy".

However, the phrase seems to mean "a lot of applause" in the context. For example:

The critics were so fulsome in their praise that Scheinhauer, a librettist known to become squeamish after a light smattering of applause, retreated from public view.

Does anyone know how to understand the meaning of light smattering of applause?

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The example is contrasting the critics' praise with a light smattering of applause, not equating the two. – Bradd Szonye Apr 25 '13 at 6:05
It's not possible to understand the meaning of this sentence because "fulsome praise" means either "abundant praise" (positive connotation) or "nauseatingly flattering" (negative connotation) and disparaging. This is a good example of why words matter & why only intentionally devious writers, lexical ignoramuses, & linguistic idiots use ambiguity when clarity is called for. In either case, "a light smattering of applause" means that only a few people in audience clapped their hands, not that there was a lot of applause, not even in this context. – user21497 Apr 25 '13 at 7:02
This might be a good candidate for migration to ELL. – Matt Apr 25 '13 at 11:57
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I think your original intepretation is correct. If Scheinhauer became squeamish after even a light smattering, than the more fulsome praise made him retreat entirely. "Light smattering" is used to contrast "fulsome", to mean exactly what you thought.

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