"There is great odds in regard to us on what principle we act"

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New Member
Italy and Italian
Hallo everybody! I'm new and would like you to help me understand this sentence. The context is the following: two people are discussing about slavery and have different opinions. Eventually, one of them says this sentence and it puts an end to the discussion. Does it mean "In this regard we act on different principles"? What do you understand?
Thanks for your answer,
  • marinax

    Senior Member
    español (Argentina)
    for me, it says that "on that particular topic, they have two very different points of view, so its impossible to come to an agreement".


    Senior Member
    People who disagree are "at odds".

    e.g., We are at odds over which principles to act on.

    "Odds are" is a gambling-based expression meaning that the probability is.

    "What are the odds?" is an expression of surprise at the likelihood of something that has occurred.


    Senior Member
    Nobody said anything about how this sentence is written. Well, it does sound strange to me. So much so that I'm not really sure what it actually means.
    I checked and found that it was written in 1757. That may explain its odd-looking construction for a modern reader.

    I first thought a comma was missing ;
    in regard to us, on what principle we act

    Then I found the same sentence worded differently
    There is great odds on what principle we act. (that is without in regard to us)

    I'm not sure it means they disagree (they're at odds)
    I think we're dealing with the other meaning (the gambling-related one as per ewhite's post)
    What I think it means is :
    The principles that motivate our actions are always doubtful, uncertain.
    We may claim our actions are prompted by such principle, that doesn't mean it's true.

    It's just a feeling. We'd need an 18th century dictionnary to confirm it.
    is what led me on that track
    (search for the word "odds")


    New Member
    Italy and Italian
    Thank you again to all of you, actually I forgot to quote the fact that the sentence was written in 18th century English, that was important I think.
    Have a nice day and happy new year


    New Member
    English - British
    Martina75 said:
    Thank you again to all of you, actually I forgot to quote the fact that the sentence was written in 18th century English, that was important I think.
    Have a nice day and happy new year
    When I read the header I thought at first it was a foreigner's attempt at translating something from his/her own language, as it is not the English we speak today at all, nor would it convey anything at all to the average person.

    Then I opened the message and saw it was from the past. I wondered whether it was some particular local way of speaking, as I've read quite a bit from older versions of Modern English and I still haven't really come across anything quite like it.

    I Googled and looked at the passage about John Woolman "To their arguments in favour of fetching negroes from Africa for slaves because of the wretchedness occasioned by their intestine wars, he replies that liberty is the natural right of all men equally. But this general principle—a commonplace of the age of reason—is not so effective as one more particular: There is great odds on what principle we act. If compassion on the Africans, in regard to their domestic trouble, were the real motives of our purchasing them, that spirit of tenderness being attended to, would incite us to use them kindly. But to say they live unhappy in Africa is far from being an argument in our favour; our real views in purchasing them are to advance ourselves, and, while our buying captives taken in war animates those parties to push on the war and increase desolation amongst them, we too are putting upon our shoulders a burthensome stone, a burden that will grow heavier and heavier till times change in a way disagreeable to us" It appears to be saying that while we can answer the argument that the slaves are being benefited by bringing them out of Africa, the best answer of all is to say that the motive of slave-holders in bringing them out of Africa is not to benefit the Africans but to benefit themselves, so this (the motive or principle behind the action) makes a big difference to how we view it.

    Google finds no other instances of "there is great odds" but it does show a "there are great odds" (which appears to be saying, there is a great chance). But here I think that "there is great odds" is comparable with the phrase "it makes no odds to me" which is identical with "it makes no difference to me".

    The Shorter Oxford Dictionary (1950 edition) gives a list of meanings for "Odds", which I will summarise:
    1: Odd or unequal things, inequalities
    2: = DIFFERENCE (in the sense of a quality of being different)(now rare)
    --------b. the amount by which one quantity exceeds or falls short of another; difference
    --------c. difference in the way of detriment or benefit
    3: = DIFFERENCE (of opinion, a quarrel) ("at odds")
    4: Difference in favour of one of two contending parties
    --------b. superior position, advantage
    --------c. equalizing allowance given to a weaker competitor or side
    5 & 6 <......>
    7 <......>
    <Mod Edit in relation to Rule #14>

    I suspect that your Woolman sentence relates to 4:a or 4:b.

    I would highly recommend the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary or Shorter Oxford Dictionary or Oxford Universal Dictionary Illustrated (all basically the same thing - in one or two large volumes) to people interested in words who don't have access to the full multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary.

    You can often find copies relatively inexpensively on second-hand book websites such as <.......mod delete - promotional.....> - though make sure you are buying the whole alphabet not just a Volume 1 or a Volume 2.

    In addition to listing all the meanings (which is all I bothered to type out above), usually with the date the compilers first found them used and whether they are obsolete or not, it often gives a few quotations from classic authors to illustrate, though not to the extent found in the OED in 20 volumes or by an expensive online subscription.

    In the second half of the 20th century, however, the complete OED was also printed in another form - micrographic reproduction in 2 volumes (a supplement volume was also published), with a magnifying glass included! You can find this, The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, on <...... mod delete, promotional .......>.

    I find that there is nothing that compares even with the "Shorter" available for free on the web to private individuals - but then again, if you are at a University, you may have a login that allows you access to the full OED.



    New Member
    English - British
    The post above wasn't *meant to be* promotional as I haven't got these books for sale, and the site I mentioned has 70 million books from 13,000 different second-hand sellers. However I'm sure people can find it for themselves without it's name.
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