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I understand, dozen may be more comfortable than twelve in speech.

I can understand using over a dozen or almost a dozen These imply rough measurement of the count, maybe ten, maybe eleven, or maybe thirteen, maybe fifteen.

But why do people choose to say/write Almost half a dozen or Nearly half a dozen when it invariably means "five"? "Four" is definitely not "nearly half a dozen", and I completely don't see the point why would anyone use this expression, but still I find it quite frequently. Does it have some historical basis or implies something beyond "five"?

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closed as not constructive by Matt E. Эллен, FumbleFingers, Mitch, simchona, waiwai933 Jun 27 '12 at 8:07

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4 is not nearly 6? That's quite a subjective point of view. –  Matt E. Эллен Jun 26 '12 at 12:09
@Matt Эллен: No, that's a third of a dozen, or maybe a notch over a quarter of a dozen. Nearly half? No way. –  SF. Jun 26 '12 at 12:11
Yep, that's pretty much the definition of subjective. –  Matt E. Эллен Jun 26 '12 at 12:12
I think this question is pointless. Most people rarely or never use "almost half a dozen" anyway - it virtually "flatlines" in NGram by comparison with about half a dozen. But I will say that "nearly half a dozen", though also relatively unusual, is 2-3 times more common than "almost half a dozen". –  FumbleFingers Jun 26 '12 at 12:35
I'm sorry, I couldn't quite hear well enough...did you say 'over a dozen' is 'maybe ten, maybe eleven', and then in comments say that 4 is -not- 'nearly half a dozen'? –  Mitch Jun 26 '12 at 13:06

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It's just a mechanism for expressing uncertainty or unimportance of the exact number. For instance, if someone says

We need to improve on-site safety. There have been five incidences in this month alone.

then you could be sure that there were exactly five of enough severity to count. However, if someone says

We need to improve on-site safety. There have been almost half a dozen incidences in this month alone.

then maybe it was five incidences, or four and a smaller incidence, or five and a small incidence. This indicates that the actual number is unimportant; it's simply big enough to be an issue, and helps to keep the focus on the real problem.

Also, by using almost or nearly the speaker suggests that this number might rise unless something happens to change the situation.

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Language is not simply about conveying raw information. It's about emotions as well. Compare:

There must have been four of five people fighting.

There must have been almost half a dozen people fighting.

In my perception, the second sentence is much more emotional and implies that the number of people fighting is impressive.

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