43

I've always understood the adjective -odd used in combination to mean about, as in "She read 300-odd pages and then stopped." After reading a comment by Edwin Ashworth in another question ("And doesn't even OED only define 600 000-odd words?") I looked up definitions of -odd and was surprised to find that they differ, with three meanings:

I. More than the number indicated
II. Approximately the number indicated
III. Either more than or approximately the number indicated


I. More than the number indicated

(a)

Somewhat more than the indicated approximate quantity, extent, or degree —usually used in combination 300-odd pages m-w

(b)

(In combination) Used to designate an indefinite quantity more than the quantity specified in round numbers: fifty-odd pounds. Collins (print)

(c)

With a relatively small number over that specified (usually in hyphenated compounds) twenty-odd children. Webster's New World Dictionary

(d)

Additional to a whole mentioned in round numbers, or to any other specified whole: following and when it takes the place of a unit appended to a ten.

A fortnight and odd days. Shak., R and J, i.3.15.

Eighty-odd years of sorrow have I seen. Shak. Rich. III. iv.1.96. The Century Dictionary

(e)
Edwin pointed out the curious take on this in the AHD:

Being in excess of the indicated or approximate number, extent, or degree. Often used in combination: invited 30-odd guests.

Webster's II New College Dictionary, also published by Houghton Mifflin, has an almost identical definition.

(Would you really use odd with a number that was not an approximation, e.g., "There were 123-odd books fitting the description"?)

(f)

The expression + odd refers to a relatively small amount over that specified; e.g. 300 odd means 'slightly over 300' D. Biber, S. Johansson, and G. Leech; Grammar of Spoken and Written English

(g)
And, for good measure, a textbook published by Routlege:

Let's look at some more sentences and see how the hyphen changes the meaning of the sentence.

  1. (Thirty odd) students tried out for the play.

We can say "thirty odd" students, which denotes that those thirty students are peculiar.
Or we can say "thirty-odd" students, which means 30+ students.
D. Crovitz and M. Devereaux; More Grammar to Get Things Done (2020)

(h)

Informal: a little more than a particular number — used in combination with a number

The book's only 100-odd pages long. [=only slightly more than 100 pages long] The Britannica Dictionary

(i)

In other cases, the approximate expression tells us we are slightly under the mentioned quantity, but leaves undetermined how much. Like in the use of English almost, Italian quasi or Swedish nästan. But some expressions, on the contrary, refer to a quantity that is slightly higher than the mentioned one. Like for -odd in this example

(7) Did you know there are loads of people outside? Must be 200-odd out there. Jens Allwood et al.; "Vagueness, unspecificity, and approximation" in S. Cantarini and W. Abraham (eds.) Certainty-uncertainty — and the Attitudinal Space in Between (2014)


II. Approximately the number indicated

(a)

Immediately following the numeral (usually one that denotes multiples of ten) forming a phrase preceding the noun modified. Now often in weakened use (frequently hyphenated): ‘or so’; ‘or thereabouts’ (OED)

Examining the OED's citations for this sense (1597–1995), I find it impossible to tell which of the more recent ones fall under the parent definition

More generally: used to denote a remainder or numerical surplus over and above a ‘round number’ (as a multiple of ten or a similar unit such as dozen, etc.)

and which were intended by the author as "about."

(b)

You use odd after a number to indicate that it is only approximate.
[informal]

How many pages was it, 500 odd?

He has now appeared in sixty odd films. Collins online

(I would always keep the hyphen; we've all seen some very odd films.)

(c)

Used after a number, especially a number that can be divided by ten, to show that the exact number is not known:

I'd say Robert's about 40-odd - maybe 45. Cambridge

The most common ways of giving an approximate number are as follows:
...
[informal] She's got twenty-odd cats.
Cambridge International Dictionary of English, p.58 (1995)

(d)

Note the following informal ways of indicating approximate numbers:

some eight people [some unstressed]
80-odd people [but not *85-odd people]
80 people or so/thereabouts
80 or so people
a good eighty people ['at least 80']

(R. Quirk et al.; A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, p. 395)

These five alternatives are bracketed with ['about eight'] alongside. Note that "80-odd people" is not qualified with ['at least 80'].

(e)

Approximation is also expressed by certain grammatically distinct constructions, as in [thirty or so] students (coordination) or [thirty-odd] students (affixation).

(Huddlestone and Pullum; The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, p.431)

(f)

The hyphen is important in phrases such as twenty-odd people (= roughly twenty), to make it clear that we are talking about roughly twenty people, not a score of eccentrics. H. Fowler and J. Butterfield; Fowler's Concise Dictionary of Modern English Usage (2016)

(g)

More or less: sixty-odd dollars. Random House Dictionary

(h)

You use odd after a number to make it sound vague or approximate: She must be 50 odd by now. □ We received 500 odd replies. Harrap's Essential English Dictionary, p.640 (1966)

(i)

Hyphen can distinguish constructions such as ...30-odd professors (around 30 professors) and 30 odd professors (a convocation of eccentric educators). Lisa McLendon; The Perfect English Grammar Workbook, p.170 (2017)

(j)

We can also use the following expression to approximate numbers.

There were sixty or so people at the party.
I saw a hundred-odd bicycles chained to the fence.
We had hundreds of applications for the job.
My MP3 player has a thousand songs, or thereabouts. Lewis Lansford; Keynote Advanced, British English, Student Book (2020)

(k)

Cardinal numerals, like scalar properties, form a scale, and also have a variety of admodifies, often of complex form, that increase, decrease, or approximate the numerical value:

Increase cardinality: (well) over twenty people, more than twenty people, at least / no less than twenty people

Decrease cardinality: under twenty people, fewer than twenty people, at most / no more than twenty people

Approximate cardinality: (around twenty people, twenty or so people, twenty-odd people Willian Croft; Morphosyntax: Constructions of the World's Languages (2022)


III. Either more than or approximately the number indicated

(a)

[In combination] In the region of or somewhat more than a particular number or quantity. Lexico

(b)

[Postpositive] [In combination] In the region of or somewhat more than a particular number or quantity: She looked younger than her 50-odd years. Oxford New American Dictionary

(c)
From Sheila Dooley and Ferdinand de Haan; "On the nature of the approximative expression NUM-odd*" in William D. Lewis et al. (eds.) Time and Again: Theoretical Perspectives on Formal Linguistics (2009), which I found after posting my question:

...
It originated from the use of odd to denote a surplus or remainder, which usage has existed for several hundred years
...
Given that Terry Langendon taught at the University of Arizona from 1988 until 2005 (i.e. seventeen years), it is tempting to use the numeral twenty with an approximative measure, as in (1):

(1)
a. Terry taught at the University of Arizona for twenty or so years.
b. Terry taught at the University of Arizona for some twenty years.
c. Terry taught at the University of Arizona for twenty-odd years.

Although (1a) and (b) are perfectly fine, there is a problem with (1c): it seems unnatural to use the expression NUM-odd when referring to a number below NUM. The present paper is a study of the NUM-odd expression.

This expression may seem like a very infrequent type of phrase in contemporary English, but a corpus study shows that this is an illusion.
...
It is probably still the case that NUM-odd when combined with lower level numbers (the 'tens') expresses a range with NUM as the lower limit, especially when combined with nouns such as year (the prototypical instance). However, at higher levels, such as two thousand-odd the NUM-odd construction is turning into a true approximative and can be used in the sense 'about'.

(d)

Expressions like “twenty-odd years,” “a dozen-odd people,” and “two hundred-odd mistakes” are usually written with a hyphen before the “odd” to indicate that the exact number is unknown—perhaps a bit higher than the stated number. If you omit the hyphen, as in “a dozen odd people attended my birthday party,” you risk giving the impression that the people who came were odd rather than that you can’t be sure of the precise number of your guests. Paul Brians; Common Errors in English Usage (2013)

(e)

If you want to say "about" and possibly more than a particular number, you can use the phrase or so or the suffix -odd.

They raised $200 or so for charity.
Her son must be forty-odd years old by now. Paul Heacock (ed.); Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary (2009)


How would you know when -odd is being used to mean somewhat more than the number indicated, and what does that actually mean, since an approximate number may have been rounded up or down (or do some folks still always round down)?


'Oh. Well, I've been telling her, it's only natural he's getting a bit forgetful,' Greg told Strike dismissively. 'What's he now, eighty-odd?'
'Seventy-nine,' said Lucy.
'Well, that's eighty-odd, isn't it?' said Greg, heading for the loaf of banana bread.
J.K. Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith; Running Grave, p.103 (2023)

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  • 18
    With a round number (30, 250, 4000), it means 'and change', i.e, always over the amount, but not much over, in context. Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 16:32
  • 6
    No, I don't think anyone would use 'odd' with a figure that wasn't a round number. Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 16:33
  • 5
    Yes, that's what I'm saying. 298 is "about 300" or "almost 300" but not "300-odd". That might be 305-350 or so. The point is that the difference is irrelevant. Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 16:49
  • 2
    Sorry, I deleted my comment for @John Lawler. I'm still confused about the definitions that use in the region of, approximately, or so, thereabouts.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 16:58
  • 8
    Round-number-odd usually means more than, but it also means less than the next round number up. So 50-odd is less than 60.
    – Neil_UK
    Commented Apr 2, 2022 at 8:08

6 Answers 6

39

I usually understand odd as being in addition to an amount, rather like a remainder. However, it can also mean an approximation, and there isn't a sure-fire way to tell the two apart.

The sense of odd as additional is deep in the history of the word. For instance, the Oxford English Dictionary gives this for its first definition of odd (adj., n.1., and adv):

  1. Of an individual: that is one in addition to a pair, or to an even number; remaining over after distribution or division into pairs; constituting a unit in excess of an even number.

In other words, an odd number is odd because it is one in excess to an even number. That also explains uses like the odd man out, the one person unpaired in a larger group.

That sense of odd influences the more generic meaning of odd as a remainder or approximate (definitions 3 and 4). Two definitions highlight the potential for polysemy between an additional sense and an approximate sense:

Odd as additional

  1. More generally: used to denote a remainder or numerical surplus over and above a ‘round number’ (as a multiple of ten or a similar unit such as dozen, etc.), and thus becoming virtually an indefinite cardinal number of lower denomination than the round number named.

Odd as approximate

4c. Immediately following the numeral (usually one that denotes multiples of ten) forming a phrase preceding the noun modified. Now often in weakened use (frequently hyphenated): ‘or so’; ‘or thereabouts’.

There's the rub. Under additional usage, 40-odd means 40 plus a smaller number. Under approximate use, 40-odd is 40 or so. There isn't a great way to distinguish between the two, but there are a couple of ideas:

  1. Is it older writing? Odd probably means an addition. For instance, at the time Otto Jespersen wrote part VII of A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles (first published 1954), he only acknowledged odd as a quantifier: "a number is a little higher than that denoted by the numeral."

  2. Is it newer writing? Be less precise in assumption. For instance, the French/English answer book Grammaire Anglaise (Florent Gusdorf) lists the following gloss for hundred-odd: "A hundred-odd people, a hundred or so people." If you don't have insight into how the author uses -odd, don't assume the usage is precisely more than.

9
  • 1
    Well argued. You make the case for definitions along the lines of group III.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 17:41
  • Think odds and ends.
    – tchrist
    Commented Apr 2, 2022 at 13:10
  • 1
    Thanks to @tchrist, who always makes the odd comment :-)
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Apr 2, 2022 at 13:18
  • It's curious that both major grammars, Quirk and Huddlestone & Pullum, have the approximation-only sense.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Apr 2, 2022 at 13:31
  • 2
    If the "approximately" meaning is becoming more common, perhaps that's in place as well as time. "Plus a few" seems to be primary in the UK, though I don't think you could be accused of lying if your 30-odd guests turned out to be 29. Maybe there's even a suggestion of asymmetric uncertainty: from just under the stated round number to just under the next
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 5:55
13

I've only used "-odd" myself and have seen it used by others to mean

With a relatively small indefinite number over that specified (usually in hyphenated compounds) twenty-odd children.

in both speech and print. But I learned its meaning from contextual clues, and it's interesting that the dictionary lists multiple meanings/uses!

3
  • 2
    'In the dictionary' would be an unfortunate misappropriation of a generic usage. The whole point here is that different (respectable) dictionaries (and grammars) disagree in what they license based on descriptive principles. Commented Apr 2, 2022 at 16:54
  • Note also that "the dictionary" of English doesn't exist (unlike more prescriptive languages), so it's usually wise to state which dictionary you're using as reference for any given answer. Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 13:53
  • I'm not sure how you can be sure that others are always using it to mean an indefinite number over, because, from what I've seen, contextual clues are very often missing entirely. In those cases, you aren't seeing anything that refutes your understanding, but these instances do not confirm it either.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 18:51
10

Well, you dug up quite a number of authoritive references supporting either, so the answers will end up more or less a poll.

For what it's worth, I only know 300-odd in the meaning "300 and then some". A similarly colloquial (but probably slighly less formal) way of expressing "about 300" would be 300-ish.

3
  • 1
    Was looking to see who mentioned "-ish". Its existence with equally short length makes it completely unnecessary to use "-odd" for approximation (one might be tempted to use "-odd" if the only alternative were "or thereabouts" as suggested in the source Taliesin quoted, a significantly longer turn of phrase)
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 16:28
  • @BenVoigt -ish is the highly versatile way to make almost anything approximative, but with so many choices-- some/roughly/about 300 pages; 300 pages, give or take; nearly 300 pages (if under)--why resort to it, given there's no good place to put it: 300 pages-ish?, 300-ish pages? 300 pages, -ish works only as a spoken afterthought.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 0:10
  • 1
    @DjinTonic: It's 300-ish pages, exactly parallel to 300-odd pages.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 15:15
6

Any time I can think of that I've heard someone use "-odd" this way, it was used with a round number and meant "plus some". Like "500-odd pages" meaning "somewhat more than 500 pages".

If someone said "500-odd pages" and it turned out the actual number was 498, I'd say it was inaccurate to say "500-odd" but not jarringly so. Such an expression is clearly approximately so if you're guessing a little high, no big deal.

I've never heard someone use "-odd" with a non-round number, like "237-odd". I suppose if I heard that I'd take it to mean at least 237 and probably a little more. But it's just not something that people normally say.

I wouldn't be surprised to hear someone use it with some other unit, like "5 dozen-odd". But I don't recall ever hearing that.

In general, if you want to say "about 500", where it might be 10 or 20 or whatever either way, say "about 500". I'd reserve "500-odd" for "more than 500".

4
  • 1
    "5 dozen-odd" would be extremely odd, as in never heard before and too cumbersome. "A good 5 dozen" would be common. Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 9:06
  • @Deduplicator I agree it's cumbersome, but "There were not 10,000-dozen-odd good forks. There were 10,000-dozen-odd poor forks." Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 11:56
  • @Deduplicator I agree, but it was mentioned in the sources that the OP quoted.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 14:48
  • A quick search in Google Books turns up two pages of hits for five dozen-odd, from girls and plants to incumbents and species. The OED has "A dozen-odd men in gray are in this yard."
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 16:09
0

In such expressions as “Twenty-odd days”, “odd” always constitutes an excess over and above the given number, quantity, or amount.

Odd entered the English language in the 14th century with reference to an item that remained once a series of those items had been paired, and this item always indicated an excess.

OED:

A. adj. I. 1 Of an individual: that is one in addition to a pair, or to an even number; remaining over after distribution or division into pairs; constituting a unit in excess of an even number.

8d. a1325 (▸c1280) Southern Passion (Pepys 2344) (1927) 1497
His cloþes hi delde a ffoure..Þo was his curtel odde. [His clothes he divided into four sets of two but his jacket was odd (left over/remained)]

It was also used to simply imply an excess regardless as to whether a division had taken place.

3.a. Used to denote a surplus over a definite sum, or a remainder (usually expressed in a lower denomination) of weight, measure, or money; additional, extra, remaining.

a1400 in R. H. Robbins Hist. Poems 14th & 15th Cent. (1959) 162 (MED) Of twelue moneþes me wanted one & odde days nyen or ten. [During a/the year I had lacked the odd day nine or ten times]

1859 ‘G. Eliot’ Adam Bede v. xxxvi. 418 Her two guineas, and the odd shillings, which had a melancholy look.

Odd was used to describe in a dismissive manner things of less value and that thus fell as extraneous outside the major group or amount:

†b. and odd: denoting an indefinite number and qualifying a noun of lower denomination in an otherwise definite expression of quantity or amount; ‘and some’; ‘and a few’. Also without and. Obsolete.

1714 London Gaz. No. 5213/4 11 Foot odd Inches in the Hold.

1813 R. Wilson Private Diary I. 434 Thirty-eight thousand odd hundred infantry, two thousand odd hundred cavalry.

†c. (and) odd money: denoting a surplus sum of lower denomination. Obsolete.

1447 in S. A. Moore Lett. & Papers J. Shillingford (1871) 16 (MED)
Thomas Montagew sholde sende me xj li. and odde mony.

1752 H. Fielding Amelia III. viii. ii. 115 He hath been here these five Weeks, at the Suit of a Bookseller, for Eleven Pound odd Money.

The modern post-positional form appeared in the early part of the 18th century:

d. Used elliptically, simply as odd or (occasionally) odds, to denote an indeterminate surplus of a lower denomination of money, weight, or measure (as in senses A. 3b and A. 3c).

1741 S. Richardson Pamela III. xvii. 93 The remaining Four Pounds odd will be a little Fund..towards the Childrens Schooling.

1961 Listener 26 Oct. 659/2 The £6-odd offered (per week) by banks and post offices, etc., to sixteen-year-old ‘O’ levellers.

In the same time-frame as the above, a sense developed that was related to the idea of something being more than was required as it was uneven or irregular:

8.a. Extraneous or additional to what is reckoned or taken into account; that is not, or cannot be, reckoned, included, or coordinated with other things; not belonging to any particular total, set, or group; not forming part of a regular series; unconnected; irregular, casual; occurring randomly or haphazardly.

But this also had the nuance that it was “extra” – beyond the ordinary, and hence “strange”.

1390? J. Mirk Instr. Parish Priests (Claud.) (1974) 198 Loke also þey make non odde weddynge. [Ensure also that they do not officiate at an irregular marriage.]

1966 C. Bukowski Let. 6 Apr. in Screams from Balcony (1998) 250
All the odd things, haircut, buy shoes, get a tooth pulled, [etc.].

1998 Strad July 709/2 Many pieces suffer from the odd sour note or from untidy position changes.

†8c. Extra; given over and above. Obsolete.

Perhaps most clearly shown in

1604 W. Shakespeare Hamlet v. ii. 138 I will winne for him and I can, if not, I will gaine nothing but my shame, and the odde hits.

3
  • 1
    But what about << 4c. Immediately following the numeral (usually one that denotes multiples of ten) forming a phrase preceding the noun modified. Now often in weakened use (frequently hyphenated): ‘or so’; ‘or thereabouts’. >>? Commented May 30, 2023 at 16:19
  • @EdwinAshworth - an outlier... Few of the examples are easily distinguished from the main meaning. All meanings go to an approximation but the guidance is good - "and then a few more."
    – Greybeard
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:04
  • So one is at liberty to cherry-pick to suit what one feels is right. I'd say this is misquoting. Commented May 30, 2023 at 18:11
0

In addition to TinMerlin's answer, for the algorithms and SEO, I think it is fitting to point out that "odd" is sometimes a popular misspelling of "ought" and sometimes even of "aught" ("naught"), although these two are quite different in meaning, simply because they sound the same in many dialects. For example, a firearm properly labeled "30-06" is sometimes colloquially called a "thirty-odd-six", even though "odd" does not otherwise mean "zero".

If you take "odd" to be an odd spelling of "ought", your 300-odd could mean "three hundred and ought", or "three hundred and something". It would be unusual to use it to mean "three hundred and aught", that is, "three hundred and nothing".

Ought-how, Wikipedia's names for zero entry has this to say about them both:

"Naught" and "nought" come from the Old English "nāwiht" and "nōwiht", respectively, both of which mean "nothing". They are compounds of no- ("no") and wiht ("thing").[4][5][6]

The words "aught" and "ought" (the latter in its noun sense) similarly come from Old English "āwiht" and "ōwiht", which are similarly compounds of a ("ever") and wiht. Their meanings are opposites to "naught" and "nought"—they mean "anything" or "all". (Fowler notes that "aught" is an archaism, and that "all" is now used in phrases such as "for all (that) I know", where once they would have been "for aught (that) I know".)[4][7][8]

However, "aught" and "ought" are also sometimes used as names for 0, in contradiction of their strict meanings. The reason for this is a rebracketing, whereby "a nought" and "a naught" have been misheard as "an ought" and "an aught".[2][4]

Samuel Johnson thought that since "aught" was generally used for "anything" in preference to "ought", so also "naught" should be used for "nothing" in preference to "nought". However, he observed that "custom has irreversibly prevailed in using 'naught' for 'bad' and 'nought' for 'nothing'". Whilst this distinction existed in his time, in modern English, as observed by Fowler and The Reader's Digest above, it does not exist today. However, the sense of "naught" meaning "bad" is still preserved in the word "naughty", which is simply the noun "naught" plus the adjectival suffix "-y". This has never been spelled "noughty".[2]

The words "owt" and "nowt" are used in Northern English. For example, if tha does owt for nowt do it for thysen: if you do something for nothing do it for yourself.[9]

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