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What’s the difference in meaning and usage between the two? I feel that overcrowded is redundant, yet it yields more results than crowded on googlengram.

Google Books crowded vs overcrowded.

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  • What gives you this feeling?
    – Mitch
    Dec 4, 2017 at 12:21
  • 3
    According to Google Books, dozens of writers have apparently been happy to refer to somewhere as crowded but not overcrowded. And if I recall, didn't Einstein say we should always attempt to simplify, but not oversimplify? This question looks like a misguided pedantic peeve/rant to me. Dec 4, 2017 at 13:12
  • There is a clear, simple, and straightforward difference between the two words. One meaning of "overcrowded" is that a specific (say, legal) limit has been surpassed. It's a really interesting question, and the first sentence of the question can be specifically answered.
    – Fattie
    Dec 4, 2017 at 18:19
  • (The fact that another usage of "overcrowded" is, simply, a synonym for "crowded", is as utterly unremarkable as pointing out that English is ubiquitously overflowing with overredundancy.)
    – Fattie
    Dec 4, 2017 at 18:19

2 Answers 2

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Overcrowded is a stronger word.

Any venue that is overcrowded is always crowded. But not all venues that are crowded are overcrowded.

The bar was crowded, I could barely find a seat.

vs

The bar was overcrowded, this has to be a fire code violation.

The reverse does not work out anywhere near so well. In the later, the over in overcrowded can be thought of as linked to the level of crowd allowed under the fire code.

Indeed the one can even say

"It was crowded, but not overly so"

To highlight that it was not intensely crowded, but perhaps just a little more than comfortable.

Further, overcrowded is almost always used negatively. But on occasion crowded can be used in a positive way. (though perhaps it is unusual, never the less it is more common than overcrowded being used this way).

Consider:

The rave was crowded, it was really rocking out, and the press of bodies added to the intensity of the room.

vs:

The rave was overcrowded, it was really rocking out, and the press of bodies added to the intensity of the room.

The former is more natural.

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  • This is generally applicable to all words with the "over-" prefix, I think. As in, it means "too much of". Dec 4, 2017 at 13:20
  • "Overcrowded is a stronger word." one usage of "overcrowded" is simply yet another simile to crowded. However as spagirl correctly explains, there is another totally different and specific meaning to overcrowded.
    – Fattie
    Dec 4, 2017 at 18:20
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if a bus displays signage setting out their passenger capacity, eg Bus sign setting out passenger capacity and the bus is full to that capacity, you might describe the bus as 'crowded'. if the number of passengers exceeded that capacity, the bus would be 'overcrowded'. It is full beyond its limits, excessively full.

The OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2017. Web. 4 December 2017. (subscription only) gives the following definitions:

OVERCROWDED: Filled uncomfortably full or beyond the normal capacity; containing or supplied with too great a number of something.

CROWDED: Filled with or thronged by a crowd.

From which you may see that the distinguishing feature of 'overcrowding' is the idea of being crowded beyond some limit, whether that be a limit of comfort or statute

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  • Indeed, "overcrowded" (can) mean over some specific (say, legal) limit.
    – Fattie
    Dec 4, 2017 at 18:16
  • It's much like overloaded.
    – Fattie
    Dec 4, 2017 at 18:21
  • The bus can be crowded even if it hasn't reached capacity -- it's a more subjective thing. One might say "so crowded that some passengers had to stand".
    – Barmar
    Dec 4, 2017 at 19:48
  • @barmar I’ve given the OED on both and described a situation in which you might use ‘crowded’. I haven’t tried to give an exhaustive list of all the ways you might use it, just the one I thought helped best differentiate it from ‘overcrowded’, that being the focus of the question.
    – Spagirl
    Dec 4, 2017 at 20:37

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