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I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by . 1, Feb 11, 2007.

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  1. . 1 Senior Member

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    G'day Englishista@s

    Would anybody care to offer an opinion of the meaning of this immortal line by TOLKIEN.

    I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

    It has puzzled me for about thirty years.

    .,,
    Please do not post links to an opinion by someone I have never heard of. I am interested in the opinion of people I have some knowledge about. Links to Wikipedia and quotations pages and such are useless to me because those places have not been peer reviewed by my peers but Word Reference is savagely peer reviewed and stuff and nonsense are soon revealed.
     
  2. Siberia

    Siberia Sibermod

    UK-Wales - English
    For me it means that he doesn't know him very well and what he does know he doesn't like but he's not particularly concerned about getting to know him (hence - as well as you deserve).
    But this could be rubbish. So don't take any notice.
     
  3. Joelline

    Joelline Senior Member

    USA (W. Pennsylvania)
    American English
    I'll take a stab at a paraphrase:
    I know less than 50% of you half as well as I should like to know you; and I like less than 50% of you half as well as you deserve to be iked.

    Personally, I would have used "fewer" rather than "half," but in this quotation, grammar must give way to art!

    I always assumed Tolkien was speaking to a large group of people and not to an individual!
     
  4. . 1 Senior Member

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    I must remember to use Tolkien next time the fewer than less discussion lowers it's head;) .

    You are spot on. It was his Eleventy First Birthday Party.

    .,,
     
  5. Joelline

    Joelline Senior Member

    USA (W. Pennsylvania)
    American English
    But it wasn't Tolkien, was it? It was Bilbo! (That's what comes from writing without thinking about context!)
     
  6. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    EEUU-inglés
    I suspect it's just a parody of Churchill's comment on a number of WR prescriptive grammar threads:
    "Never in the course of human events have so many said so much about so little with so few consequences..."

    Oh, the Tolkien stuff? Let's see...

    I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

    I don't know Tolkien or the context, so I'll just take it as I find it.

    I don't know 50% of you nearly as well as I should like to. The first part seems simple enough. I take "you" as plural, so the half~50% refers to half the audience or readership, and not some part of a single person.

    Without context, and with an anatomical bent (!), one might still make sense of it.

    I like less/fewer than half of you not nearly as much as you deserve to be liked. So much for the second part.

    Now let's add the pieces together.

    ≈of the group are not very well known to the writer, but he finds them attractive enough to want to know them better. As for the remainder, or most of the remainder, he gives them credit for deserving more appreciation than he feels for them, which is a decent thing to say about people you don't care for.

    or....

    All of his remarks are about <50% of the entire group, and he likes them very much, but not so much as he suspects they deserve to be liked, and........he would like to get to know them better, after which his opinions might well change radically.
     
  7. ireney

    ireney Modistra

    U.S.A.
    Greek Greece
    Since Tolkien is one of those writers whose work I almost know by heart here's some context you may find interesting:

    a) It's his one hundred and eleventh birthday and he has invited pretty much everybody from his village and the surrounding areas to the Party.
    b) He delivers a short speech after which he puts on the Ring and disappears. This particular quote is from the last part of his speech
    c) After that comment the audience was by and large silent trying to figure out whether he had insulted them or not :D

    It seems that the author himself realises that this phrase is a "bit" complicated but his intention is clearly for his character to deliver a compliment.

    The way I always understood it is From those of you gathered here I don't know even the half as well as I would like, I would like to know this half of you that I do know better than I do. I also don't like all of you (since I don't know you and all) . I should like those that I know and like more than I do (in other words it's me being weird that I don't like you as much as you deserve to be liked).

    I think this explanation is worse than the original :D
     
  8. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    Is that quotation correct? I find it hard to believe that Tolkien would use something so close to a double negative, even if it's in the mouth of Bilbo.

    I believe it is rather:

    The final result is that it is indeed a compliment.

    He would like to know them better, and he admits that they deserve more fondness than he gives them.
     
  9. Ecossaise Senior Member

    English
    I think it is in fact a very subtle compliment to those he like ( I know less than half of you half as well as I should like = he would like to know them better) and a subtle insult to those he doesn't like (I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve = they are not very nice people and he reluctantly likes them more than he thinks they deserve).
     
  10. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    EEUU-inglés
    I halfway agree with you.:rolleyes:
     
  11. Luchie

    Luchie Junior Member

    Norway
    England, English
    I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.


    It is a brilliant quote, very thought provoking.

    It is as far as I remember a good bye speach given by the Hobbit to all the villagers.

    "I don't know half of you half as well as I should like"

    Meaning that he has not discovered or learned enough about some of the people there, both enemys and friends and those he just has not had the chance to become more aquainted with.

    "And I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."

    Meaning that he doesn't like half of the people, but they do not deserve his dislike of them as it is probably unfounded and they are probably good people.

    It is a really interesting way of putting it, very intellectual and quite poetic too. If English is not your mother tongue I can understand that it would take a while to fully comprehend what he really meant.
    I have heard and read it many times, but sitting down to reply to your question I really had to read it sentence by sentence.
    It is beautifully written.

    :)
     
  12. sloopjc Senior Member

    UK English
    The craft work is in saying, "...and I like less than half of you..." which could also mean that of the less-than-half that he openly admits to liking (not necessarily that he dislikes up to 50% of the people), he treasures their company. I take that to mean he is proud, but shy, which he admits by saying that he also doesn't know as many people as well as he would like to.
     
  13. . 1 Senior Member

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    I am not sure that I agree with you on this point. It is clear to me that there are some people in the audience that are not favourites of Bilbo.

    What is your source? I tried to be as accurate as I possibly could. I am of the opinion that Lord Of The Rings is possibly the last work of fiction written in English that was almost, if not, perfectly punctuated. I believe that the ; has meaning in the sentence. If I am wrong I would love to have my memory set straight.

    .,,
     
  14. ireney

    ireney Modistra

    U.S.A.
    Greek Greece
    But that's the beauty of it! He is giving a compliment to the mass of his guests while being very sincere. He likes less than half half as well as they deserve but that doesn't mean that among the people that he knows there aren't those who he deslikes with good reason.
    The same "double" meaning can be applied to the first part of this phrase.
     
  15. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    Sorry, that was off the top of my head, and I wasn't looking at punctuation but at wording - I thought it was not "I don't know" but rather "I know less than". I have the book in front of me now, and I see that I was wrong. It's correct as given in the title of this thread.

    No, I don't think so.

    "I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."

    The underlined half doesn't refer to an amount; it's an idiom. "I don't like you half as well as I should." means "I should like you more than I do."

    So the quote could be rephrased as,

    "I like more than half of you less than half as well as you deserve."

    Or, "More than half of you deserve to be liked more than I currently like you."
     
  16. winklepicker

    winklepicker Senior Member

    Kent
    English (UK)
    I'm very big on word order:

    Half of you I don't know [half] as well as I should like; and less than half of you I like [half as well as] less than you deserve.

    I should like to know 50% of the audience better; fewer than 50% of you deserve that I should like you better.

    So we have several groups:

    1) those Bilbo would like to know better - making up 50% of the audience.
    2) those who deserve to be better liked - between 1% and 49%
    3) a group who have not been mentioned at all - between 1% and 50%

    Note that groups 1 and 2 are not mutually exclusive: it is possible that Bilbo would like to know better all those who deserve to be liked more, making up the total of people he would like to know more by some who do NOT deserve to be better liked.

    Half of this explanation deserves to be better understood; I would like it half as much again if I understood it 50% better...
     
  17. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    I don't see where you're getting this from - unless you're adding an extra 'less'-

    "I like you less than half as well as you deserve" Means "you deserve that I should like you better".

    Therefore, "I [do] like you .... half as well as you deserve" means "I don't need to like you any more than I already do."

    Therefore, if

    "I like you half as well as you deserve" means "I needn't like you any better"

    Then

    "I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve" Means "The lesser half of you don't deserve to be liked any better" or conversely, "The greater half of you deserve to be better liked".

    The Sackville-Bagginses, of course, are in the smaller half.
     
  18. Ecossaise Senior Member

    English
    Tolkien would have loved this discussion!
     
  19. winklepicker

    winklepicker Senior Member

    Kent
    English (UK)
    I like less than half of you [= 49% or fewer]...

    ...half as well as you deserve [= you deserve to be liked twice as well as I like you].

    Do you like this explanation any better? Does it deserve to be better known?

    For my part, Song Sprite, I want to know what you've done with the third half - the ones who are neither in the big half that he wants to know better, nor the small half who deserve to be better liked...

    Now I'll just go and lie in a darkened room for a bit...
     
  20. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    I like you....half as well as you deserve"...........twice as well, ah I see where you're coming from now. You're taking it as a literal 'half'. I had always understood "half as well" to be the counterpoint of "less than half as well".

    By my (perhaps flawed) logic:
    I like you less than half as well as I should = I should like you better
    I [do] like you half as well as I should = I needn't like you any better

    But I suppose, as you put it, it could also mean that "I should like you twice as much."

    So, it all comes down to how you view Tolkien's unconventional twist on the conventional "less than half as".
     
  21. . 1 Senior Member

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    This is brilliant.
    I am now wondering if the statement has a translation.
    Is it possible that this is the equivalent of an emotion that is to be taken a different way depending on the reader?

    .,,
     
  22. winklepicker

    winklepicker Senior Member

    Kent
    English (UK)
    Oh blimey - now I see where you're coming from. You're putting you and half together to make 'you-half'. That's put the cat among the pigeons.

    I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve = of the half of you that I don't know as well as I would like, I like less than half [fewer than 25% of the total] just exactly as much as you deserve. I'm saying nothing at all about the half that I DO know as well as I would like...

    In the immortal words of The Clitheroe Kid - 'Oh 'eck!'.
     
  23. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    I did not! Explanation to follow.
     
  24. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    I like less than half of you, half as well as you deserve. (Comma'd for clarity)

    My understanding of this:

    I like less than half of you = the obvious
    half as well as you deserve = quite as well as you deserve

    I come to this because I understand "less than half" to mean "not quite" in this context.
     
  25. winklepicker

    winklepicker Senior Member

    Kent
    English (UK)
    Under the influence of the mind-expanding drug that is Song Sprite, huge vistas of meaning begin to open up:

    I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; however, I DO know the other 50% just as well as I want to, and have no wish to know them any better. NB This has nothing to do with liking: he might wish to know better the lesser-known ones simply in order to anticipate better their inimical behaviour.

    and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve - if he meant 49% or less here, wouldn't that be fewer? So it must mean I like less than half of you = half of you like more than I do as well = also as you deserve just as you should be liked.

    Ouch.
     
  26. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    Winklepicker, you are awesome. I'll take 'mind-expanding drug' as a compliment.

    Agreed.

    I think I see where you're going with this, but I don't understand what you mean by "'I like less than half of you' = half of you like more than I do".
     
  27. winklepicker

    winklepicker Senior Member

    Kent
    English (UK)
    No. Me neither. :D
     
  28. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    Laaaaaaaaaaaaame.

    :p Take your pills and go lie down.

    But seriously, do you understand where I'm coming from with "half as much" meaning "quite as much"?
     
  29. . 1 Senior Member

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    I don't half agree with what you are saying.

    .,,
     
  30. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    I wish I knew half of you better.
    I don't like most of you as much as I should - you deserve more.

    As I see it, he's a wistful curmudgeon. ;)
     
  31. sloopjc Senior Member

    UK English
    You're all getting carried away with it! That, no doubt is what Tolkien intended. Let me explain. When singer /songwriter David Bowie writes songs, he openly admitted in the past, to writing lyrics on bits of paper, and then laying out the bits of paper in an order that created the most intriguing and poetic verses.

    If you turn Tolkien's phrase around, i.e.

    I don't know half of you half as well as you deserve;
    and
    I like less than half of you half as well as I should like.

    - then is it any clearer? What is clear, is that the first half in this case remains a clear compliment, but the second half is more a play on words. I'm not suggesting that this was Tolkien's method, but creative writing is how I see it. The end meaning, as they say, is whatever you want it to be.
     
  32. Ecossaise Senior Member

    English
    And in the book, if you remember, his guests were equally puzzled and sat thinking hard about what Frodo meant and whether they were being complimented or not.
     
  33. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    As I have understood it, without detailed analysis:
    Those who were Bilbo's friends were warmed by his appreciation of their friendship;
    Those who were Bilbo's acquaintances were warmed by his saying he'd have liked to know them better;
    Those who were Bilbo's irritants (the Sackville-Bagginses for example) knew they had been insulted but could not, for the life of them, figure out how.

    I may as well have a go at a more careful interpretation.
    I don 't interpret half literally.
    I don't know half of you half as well as I should like;
    There are many of you that I should like to know a great deal better than I do.
    (Of the rest, some I know very well; some I know well enough, thank you - any more would be too well.)

    and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
    There are some of you that I believe I should like more than I do - whatever that means.
     
  34. . 1 Senior Member

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    This changes the flavour of the sentence as the major premise of the emotion from 'I don't know' thereby creating the uncertainty to 'I don't like' which is instantly and unmistakeably unpleasant.

    It must be remembered that this was a 'spoken' phrase where the audience became caught in a loop of uncertainty started by "I don't know" which is very ambiguous when spoken as the audience must immediately translate it to "I am unsure" or "My knowledge of you is limited" and that easily becomes confused to "I am unsure that my knowledge of you is limited".

    This is something that I did not anticipate; I am confident that Tolkien was extremely careful with this phrase and probably took some care to craft it. Confusion will reign more supremely if we continue to play around with the word order. I think that the habits of writers of pop songs who take ten minutes or a day to write an entire song should be carefully compared to a novel that took something like twelve years to write.

    .,,
     
  35. sloopjc Senior Member

    UK English
    That can't really be proven. My mother could completely baffle you with a single sentence without even thinking. She also prides herself on saying things like, "That might be what I said, but that isn't what I meant." She is a living riddle, is my mother. I think you give too much credit to the author for his seemingly near-profound dialogue. You are assuming that this sentence is deep and meaningful, simply because Tolkien was such a master writer. He crafted the stories, but he could have borrowed this sentence from someone he overheard in a pub - for example.
     
  36. . 1 Senior Member

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    Of course not. It is quite possibly just a random collection of words as would be produced by a trained monkey with access to a spell checker and a thesauras

    I doubt that your mother could baffle me even had she the opportunity to do so but I will allow that many people are able to baffle if they speak without thinking.

    I am not really sure how you think that your mother's off the cuff statements compare to a crafted work by an English Literature Professor but there are only six degrees of separation between Kevin Bacon and me.

    In 1945 Tolkien was appointed Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University.

    The mates that he used to drink with down at the pub included C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, Adam Fox, Hugo Dyson, Robert Havard, Nevill Coghill, Charles Leslie Wrenn, Roger Lancelyn Green, Colin Hardie, James Dundas-Grant, John Wain, R.B. McCallum, Gervase Mathew, C.E. Stevens, J.A.W. Bennett, Lord David Cecil, Christopher Tolkien (J.R.R. Tolkien's son), Warren "Warnie" Lewis (C.S. Lewis's elder brother), and Eric Rucker Eddison.

    The phrases that these geezers would parry and thrust with were probably somewhat more erudite than the average punter at the Boozer at the Bay.

    I must ask you to focus on the sentence written by a word moulder.

    .,,
     
  37. sloopjc Senior Member

    UK English

    That's nice for you. Like I say, I don't suppose Tolkien needed to rely on his talents - or those of his companions, entirely, to write such a wonderful book. It's clear you personally hold him in high esteem, but I wouldn't think too deeply about this sentence. It was designed to confuse his audience, for which it doesn't take a genius.
     
  38. . 1 Senior Member

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    How can a writer not rely on talent to write a work of total fiction?

    Your contribution to the subject matter has been duely noted.

    Yes but the genius is to hide meaning in the confusion so that the multilayered message is perceived at different levels depending upon the comprehension abilities of the diverse divers audience.
    That's the thing about comprehension because everytime I see your tag I think of sloop being vessel or body and JC being the Christ so you remind me of the Body Of Christ which is obviously just an odd abberation of mine own personally and nothing to do with the genius of the writer;) .

    .,,
     
  39. sloopjc Senior Member

    UK English
    I suggested that Tolkien didn't need to rely entirely on his own talent or that of his companions. I think you are suggesting that only a literary genius is qualified to confuse his audience with such an immortal line as:
    I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

    You may be right, but the author himself doesn't need to know what it means any more than we do. Tolkien is playing with words. He's effectively mimicking a person who thinks he is cleverer than he actually is. Tolkien has the intellect, word power and speed to compose such a sentence, without thinking of the meaning. You are giving him credit for a multi-layered statement, whereas I disagree. I think of it more as a cleverly constructed conundrum that doesn't equate.
     
  40. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    :) As proven by the conversation in this thread.
     
  41. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    US-English
    First, is this correct?

    Bilbo: "Alas, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable hobbits. […???] I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."

    My undersanding:

    1) I don't know half of you half as well as I should like;
    I know less than half of you. Those of you I do know, I don't know as well as I would like.

    and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
    And the same group, the less than half of you I know, I like half as well as you deserve.

    In my opinion this is deliberately ambiguous, since by referring to "less than half" Bimbo says nothing about what he thinks about the remainder, the "MORE than half" that he may or may not like. :)

    As for another question, "fewer than half" vs. "less than half", I think this is a perfect example of how wrong prescriptivists are who always insist on "fewer"!

    Gaer
     
  42. . 1 Senior Member

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    In that case is thaere any chance that you can include the requisite words rather than sniping when I can't read what you don't write.

    My fur coat I am saying that. Anybody with the ability to compose such lines is a literary genius.
    I reckon that my grandfather qualifies and you say that your mother qualifies. My dad was a pretty dab hand at the one liners. What are you saying that I am suggesting?

    Absolutely. This is possible but I think it unlikely. I think that (about to be)Professor Tolkien would have considered it a waste of a perfect opportuinty to not have some form of solution possible. With due reference to the requirement to solve riddles in the rest of his works it is almost inconceivable to me that this is merely empty meaningless rhetoric.

    .,,
     
  43. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    US-English
    Since the rest of us are interested in what the sentence given means, but you aren't, your only contribution seems to be to insuinuate, in a rather condescending way, that the rest of us are foolish for thinking about it.
    In fact, I think that was my interpretation. If you think about it, it was a very sneaky way of expressing appreciation and respect for "less than half" and contempt for "more than the other half" without actually saying anything unkind. :)

    Gaer
     
  44. sloopjc Senior Member

    UK English
    Well, I gave my first opinion on the meaning much earlier in the thread, if you read it, so I have approached the question in the intended manner of the original poster. However, having read over all the replies since, I am now of the opinion that there is no equatable answer. My opinion is that there is no multi-layered statement. If you feel I'm looking down on you because I now believe there is no finite, comprehensible meaning them I can only say that I am sorry that you won't accept it.
     
  45. sloopjc Senior Member

    UK English
    Except he is writing dialogue for a character who at the time of the speech, is acting out of sorts. A character who is preoccupied and bumbling. Why shouldn't the dialogue in this case be non-comprehensible?
     
  46. Pnevma Senior Member

    English,USA
    The context leads me to believe he has the whole thing thought out. He intentionally insulted his audience by lumping them into dozens, and this sentence is far too beautiful and consistently worded to be an accidentally incoherent uttering.
    The first clause and the second clause are both beautifully constructed, and together make a very complete albeit complicated thought. If Tolkien had wanted Bilbo to say something incoherent, he would have said something far less linguistically and philosophically interesting.

    Anyway, I'm going along with the general consensus that Bilbo feels he should know most of the people better and those he knows he wishes he liked better, but doesn't. I took him to be insulting basically the whole crowd, rather than the "more than half" he doesn't know as well as he likes.
     
  47. . 1 Senior Member

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    This is your opinion but it is not the opinion of others. Let's give others a chance to give an interpretation; I have seen quite a few that fly in the face of your claim of incomprehensibility.

    You must remember that the character is not bumbling but a rather accomplished public speaker and a pillar of his community in a community where riddles are a part of everyday life.

    .,,
     
  48. sloopjc Senior Member

    UK English
    Yet again, you quote me out of context. I said, "at the time of giving his speech" the character is bumbling, i.e. thinking about preparing the ring for his vanishing act. The sentence is long, with much repetition, a trait of public speakers who find themselves preoccupied. I think the meaning you are looking for has already been covered in this thread, but like everyone else, I look forward to reading more stimulating responses. G'day;)
     
  49. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I like to think that the particularly clever aspect of this statement is not that it has a particularly convoluted solution, but that no matter how hard anyone studies it, no clear and unambiguous meaning can be discerned.

    I don't suppose it is all that difficult to write stuff that doesn't have a clear unambiguous meaning. What's difficult is to write stuff that looks so convincingly profound that no one will believe it doesn't have a clear unambiguous meaning.

    I think he's looking at all this scribbling with a fond smile. We are re-creating in cyber-space exactly the scene Tolkien imagined at the birthday gathering.
     
  50. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    Dresden, Universum
    German, Germany
    Astonishing: When I read this, it seems to be a kind of translation of

     
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