a puny half a pound

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JungKim

Senior Member
Korean
A Daily Mail article titled "From runt to supersized: King Penguin chick has gone from just a few inches tall and 0.5lb to more than two and a half feet and 1.5 stone in just a few months" starts like this:
This King Penguin chick- the first to be born in the UK in five years- has gone from a tiny six inch weakling to a staggering two and a half feet tall giant in a matter of months.

It was weak, wrinkly and grey, unable to even stand on its own two feet when it was born at Birdland Park and Gardens in Bourton on the Water, Gloucestershire, last September.

Now the big ball of fluff has rocketed from a puny half a pound to a whopping 1.5 stones in four months on a diet of liquidised herrings.
In the emboldened noun phrase, does the first "a" determine "half"?
If so, why would removing "puny" make the NP "sloppy"?
...from a half a pound to... (common but sloppy, per other threads)

If the first "a" doesn't determine "half", what does it determine?
 
  • natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Yes, removing puny as a characterisation of 'half a pound' does not make the NP 'sloppy'.

    Do you know the children's rhyme 'Pop, goes the weasel'?
    Half a pound of tupenny rice,​
    Half a pound of treacle,​
    Mix them up and make it nice,​
    Pop, goes the weasel!​
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    How do you know kentix thinks 'a half a pound' is not sloppy?
    By implication. He showed the structure, and the assumption is that the structure ('half a pound') isn't faulty.
    Do you think 'a half a pound' is perfectly well formed?
    Well, I think 'a half a pound' is strange, but 'half a pound' is hunky-dory and tickety-boo.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    By implication. He showed the structure, and the assumption is that the structure ('half a pound') isn't faulty.

    Well, I think 'a half a pound' is strange, but 'half a pound' is hunky-dory and tickety-boo.
    I'm confused. I didn't say half a pound is sloppy.
    If you remove puny from a puny half a pound, you have a half a pound, which I said was sloppy.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Assuming I've understood your question correctly*, I suppose that there is, effectively, an understood "amount of" in both a puny half a pound and tunaafi's a puny eight ounces.

    _______


    * I take it that it's not really about the sloppiness or otherwise of a half a pound?
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    * I take it that it's not really about the sloppiness or otherwise of a half a pound?
    Some say 'sloppy', natkretep says 'strange', but I think all agree that 'a half a pound' is not well formed albeit commonplace. So yes, it's not about it, but the sloppiness or strangeness of 'a half a pound' I think proves that the adjective 'puny' is more than an optional modifier (an optional adjunct) in this construction.

    Assuming I've understood your question correctly*, I suppose that there is, effectively, an understood "amount of" in both a puny half a pound and tunaafi's a puny eight ounces.
    Treating the whole thing simply as "an amount" like you suggest means that the first "a" (probably combined with puny) determines 'half a pound' as a single unit, and that the syntax should be something like [a puny (amount of)] [half a pound]

    But the problem with that analysis, I think, is that it cannot explain why a single unit can be treated as plural in the right context: A puny eight ounces are in a cup.

    If you analyze the construction as [A puny (amount of)] [eight ounces], how could it be treated as plural?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    But the problem with that analysis, I think, is that it cannot explain why a single unit can be treated as plural in the right context: A puny eight ounces are in a cup.

    If you analyze the construction as [A puny (amount of)] [eight ounces], how could it be treated as plural?
    Fair point ~ though I'm turning somersaults trying to work out if I would actually say "a puny eight ounces are...".

    But I might say "A mere ten men were sufficient" rather than "A mere ten men was sufficient". Or would I? Hmmm....

    I don't think I'm going to be able to help you to solve this conundrum, JungKim.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Both of these sentences (or similar) are probably heard hundreds of times a day at delis.

    I'll take a quarter of a pound of pastrami. :thumbsup::thumbsup:
    I'll take a quarter pound of pastrami. :thumbsup::thumbsup:

    These don't sound natural to me:
    I'll take a half of a pound of pastrami. :thumbsdown:
    I'll take half of a pound of pastrami. :thumbsdown:

    But these do:
    I'll take a half a pound of pastrami. :thumbsup::thumbsup:
    I'll take half a pound of pastrami. :thumbsup::thumbsup:
    I'll take a half pound of pastrami. :thumbsup:

    And these:
    I'll take a pound of pastrami. :thumbsup::thumbsup:
    I'll take one pound of pastrami. :thumbsup:

    Make of it what you will.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Fair point ~ though I'm turning somersaults trying to work out if I would actually say "a puny eight ounces are...".

    But I might say "A mere ten men were sufficient" rather than "A mere ten men was sufficient". Or would I? Hmmm....

    I don't think I'm going to be able to help you to solve this conundrum, JungKim.
    How about [a [puny eight]] ounces?
     

    TheMahiMahi

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    I cannot wrap my head around this pair.
    I wonder if other native speakers feel the same way.
    Well, I think we might just be overanalyzing now. I agree with kentix on what I personally find to sound just a little bit strange. But when I say "a little strange" I really mean little. Honestly all of those sentences could be said every day and they'd sound fine.
     
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