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I came across the following sentence in "The Carpetbagger Report":

The administration published this afternoon a newly released, and surprisingly short, declassified summary of the key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate on al Qaeda. The document is online for all to see.

The startling new revelations are ... far and few between. The terrorist network is rebuilding, its leadership is located largely in tribal areas of Pakistan, and it’s still focused on committing acts of terror ‘without requiring a centralized terrorist organization, training camp or leader.”

Can someone explain the meaning of the phrase "... far and few between" in that context?

Presumably it is an idiom, but I have not been able to find its meaning on the internet.

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I don't know what you're searching, but it's the first hit on Google – simchona Jun 25 '12 at 17:58
@simchona: I'm searching for the meaning of "far and few between" in that context. If you take a look in its ngram, you will see that it is a rare idiom. – user19148 Jun 25 '12 at 18:01
Carlo_R, there is an idiom "few and far between" that means not many and widely scattered. I think this is just a play on that, especially with the ... before it. I'm not 100% sure of the writer's intended meaning. – JLG Jun 25 '12 at 18:04
@simchona: Please, see this nGram books.google.com/ngrams/… – user19148 Jun 25 '12 at 18:12
@Carlo_R. Please stop addressing comments to me. I can read his answer for myself. – simchona Jun 25 '12 at 18:14
up vote 7 down vote accepted

"Far and few between" is a sorry mangling of idiomatic few and far between, which as noted in link means "very few; few and widely scattered". The phrase as used in "The Carpetbagger Report" breaks down into the phrases "revelations are few between" and either "revelations are far" or "revelations are far between", of which only the last makes sense.

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+1 A sorry mangling indeed. Maybe the Carpetbagger was trying to be clever. – Dilip Sarwate Jun 25 '12 at 18:06

I think the phrase:

The startling new revelations are ... far and few between.

Can be read as

There are very few startling new revelations.

Or more clearly:

Of all the revelations, very few are new and startling.

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Few and far is an idiomatic phrase, meaning not many but maybe two or three. As in the sentence: "piano techniques are few and far".

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