April 13, 2005

Entirely Likely

A correspondent observes

It seems that saying "it's entirely likely" expresses less certainty than "it's likely," although semantically it should be the opposite. It doesn't seem to work that way with "possible," though - "it's entirely possible" seems to work as an intensifier. "It's completely likely" seems weaker than "it's likely," which makes me think that it's something about likely, but I can't figure out what. What do you think?

I think that I can't figure this out myself. Help me!

Posted by Matt Weiner at April 13, 2005 11:50 AM

I think it's just being unnecessarily wordy and therefore, introducing confusion. I.e., bad writing.

Posted by: bitchphd at April 13, 2005 01:44 PM

Actually, I think "it's entirely possible" is less certain than "it's possible", and "it's entirely likely" just sounds weird.

Posted by: ben wolfson at April 13, 2005 03:20 PM

sub "completely possible" for "entirely possible" above.

Posted by: ben wolfson at April 13, 2005 03:21 PM

I wonder if some of these intuitions are based on sociolinguistic observation that don't rise to consciousness. Putting in words that aren't actually needed may convey being uncertain, or a general ego weakness. (Sociolinguists have found, or claim, that some intensifiers are used more by women than by men.) Hey, Matt, this actually may be relevant--giving credence based on how much confidence one has in the speaker, based on the speaker's confidence. Though it's also possible to use unnecessary words to convey snarkiness: "I haven't the faintest idea" versus "I don't know" means "I don't know and I don't care." I can make that fit: Maybe it conveys that by seeming languid rather than forceful/straightforward.

Posted by: Matt's mom at April 14, 2005 07:02 AM

I think this has roots in the fact that saying-- usually in an argument--that "it [your claim] is possible" usually means, "it's possible, but not likely." To say "it's entirely possible" is to say, "It's possible, and I mean that as a concession, not a backhanded furtherance of the disagreement."

Posted by: ogged at April 15, 2005 12:05 PM

Reminds me of the way "ganz gut" just means "ok" in German, whereas "ganz X" means "totally X" for most other adjectives X.

Posted by: Kenny Easwaran at April 21, 2005 02:43 AM