What does broad and narrow mean in a general context suppose Broad traits are x, y, z and narrow traits are a, b, c, broad issues are f, g,h and narrow issues are k, j, h? If a trait suppose X cant be further divided and why do we call it broad?

  • Can someone please answer this. We sometimes say that suppose X is a broad category of something and X can't be further divided. Then how is it broad? – Rrrrhh Mar 4 '19 at 8:58
  • Someone please clarify it if you can – Rrrrhh Mar 4 '19 at 9:09
  • Look up "broad minded" and "narrow minded". – Hot Licks Mar 4 '19 at 19:58
  • And please cite the text that you feel implies "broad" means "can't be further divided". – Hot Licks Mar 4 '19 at 20:00
  • (Bear in mind that saying a classification is "broad" implies that that classification is not of much help in sorting out details. This does not imply that items that may fall in that broad category cannot be further classified using other criteria.) – Hot Licks Mar 4 '19 at 20:03

In this context "broad" means generally applicable and with wide (lots of) applications. Examples for broad traits might be "being a good communicator", "being good with numbers", "being tolerant", "keeping situational awareness"

By contrast "narrow", here, means a very specific skill with limited applicability. Examples of narrow traits are "being an expert in the use of commas in 13th century Icelandic poetry", "being able to fix air intake valves on Ford cars made between 2003 and 2005", "being able to remember pi to 1000 digits"

[This is opinion, but you asked for the origin: The usage, i imagine, comes from the metaphor of shallow and deep learning. Imagine a pool of knowledge: shallow learning doesn't go deep into the pool but covers a broad area of the surface. Deep learning on the other hand, covers a very narrow area of the surface but goes deep into the pool.]

Edit answering you question in the comments:

If one were to believe in the type a/b personality theory one could say "There are two broad types of people: type-A people are outgoing and ambitious, and type-B people are introverted". The meaning of "Broad" here is "a rough approximation", or "a view from 1000 feet". Broad in the sense of "Broad brush strokes" made by an artist or a rough sketch.

The antonym of "Broad" in this sense is "Specific" not narrow, so I guess this would be an example you seek: It's not the divisibility that makes something broad, more that it's an approximation.

  • Thank you so much. Could you please explain the second part. If I say a broad category than what does it mean? In the dictionary a broad category means a category with a lots under it. But there are instances where they can't be further divided. If so then how are they broad?And what does broad mean there? – Rrrrhh Mar 4 '19 at 9:45
  • I'm having difficulty thinking of an example of a broad category that can't be further divided, if you give me an example I'll gladly explain. – james Mar 4 '19 at 9:59
  • I too will have to find an example I guess. But suppose If I casually say there are two broad types of this. Then here does broad mean wide, big, large or general or basic? Is it compulsory that it be can be further divided. And also what does narrow category mean? Unique and less important category? – Rrrrhh Mar 4 '19 at 10:10
  • Does broad here mean General or wide? I think if it is a general category then it is a basic one and may or may not be further divided but if it is a wide one that it obviously can be divided. And suppose we say the broadest category of animals is this and most specific category is this. – Rrrrhh Mar 4 '19 at 10:17
  • And If I say broad reasons and narrow reasons. What does the two mean here? General and specific reasons or Big and small reasons? – Rrrrhh Mar 4 '19 at 10:39

The expression “streets broad and narrow” is found in the Irish song Molly Malone, which most English-speaking children have probably heard (and sung) multiple times by the time they finish elementary school.

It would be a rare adult that could hear “themes broad and narrow” without mentally segueing into “cockles and mussels alive alive-o”.

A broad street cannot be divided into a collection of narrow streets.

Similarly, a collection of themes might be connected, and apparently haphazard, but still having a common purpose, as a seller of shellfish might have in following a route that sells her wares quickly and profitably.

Edited to add:

Any native English speaker who uses the expression “themes broad and narrow” is introducing a note of whimsy into their text. In keeping with this, we can attempt a thematic analysis of The Three Little Pigs, an English folk tale that also has counterparts in other cultures.

The broad theme of the story is that person will be more successful in seeking their fortune if they work hard to build what they need to protect themselves, since wolves and other predators are ever present. The third little pig that builds his brick house is hard at work laying bricks while his brothers with their houses of straw and sticks are playing in their free time.

A narrower theme is the moral obligation that the third pig has to aid his brothers. In some versions of the story, the first two pigs are killed and eaten by the wolf. In others, they escape, and ultimately run to the house of the third pig, who lets them in without question.

It’s not that this moral obligation is unimportant, but while almost everyone can agree on the need to provide against misfortune, we are less agreed on what we should do to assist those who cannot or will not provide for themselves. It is a narrow theme because it has to be deliberately explored, much as a narrow street in a great city has to be explored with greater caution than the broad avenue where we find others sharing our way.

  • When I say two broad reasons and two narrow reasons? I do know that these are major and minor reasons but what do the words broad and narrow hete itself mean? Big and small or General and very specific or something else? – Rrrrhh Mar 5 '19 at 4:21
  • @Rrrrhh I have edited my answer to address your comment. To my mind, broad themes lie on the surface of a work and can be readily perceived. Narrower themes are present but require exploration. My opinion is that “broad and narrow” has a strong resonance with the childhood music of native English speakers, and that you should interpret them more figuratively than literally. – Global Charm Mar 5 '19 at 20:19

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