I, For One, Do Not Welcome Our New Ancient Greek Overlords:

My use of the term "lion's share" to mean the great majority drew this comment:

Still, the fact remains that the Soviets and Soviet soldiers bore the lion's share of the European war's casualties,...

Eugene, you seem to love words and [idioms], so please forgive a minor bit of pedantry. Your statement is not true.

"The lion's share" means the whole thing.

Others have made similar assertions.

I'm all for pedantry, but I'm also pedantic about what "not true" and "means" mean. As I understand it, the term "means" means (where English idioms are concerned) what the words actually convey to typical English speakers (or, in writing aimed at an educated audience, what they convey to typical educated English readers). It doesn't mean "what the phrase meant in the original literary source from which it is borrowed." Really, that's not what "means" generally "means," either according to usage or according to any prescriptivist definitions of what "means" means. Even if one is a prescriptivist, there is no established prescription of the English language that phrases with literary origins have to perfectly track the meaning in the original source.

And "lion's share" apparently means, and has for centuries meant, "the largest or principal portion," to quote the Oxford English Dictionary (is that authority enough for you?). The first source the OED gives is Edmund Burke, in 1790, "Nor when they were in partnership with the farmer ... have I heard that they had taken the lion's share." (I checked the book itself, and it confirms the OED's understanding of Burke's meaning.) Other sources, cited in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage.

The OED does not even give "all" as a definition. The same is true for the Merriam-Webster and the Random House. The only definition I could find that included "all" as an option was in the 1913 Webster's, but even it included "nearly all" and "the best or largest part" as alternative definitions.

Now if you find departures from the original historical referent to be annoying or esthetically displeasing, that's fine. I sometimes have that reaction myself. (Note, though, that apparently there are different versions of the fable, in some of which the lion gets everything, and in some of which the lion gets almost everything but not everything.)

But please don't pretend that the meaning supposedly given by an Ancient Greek 2500 years dead is what the phrase actually "means" in our language and in our time. Or if you want to use "means" in what strikes me as the highly nonstandard meaning of "should mean because I believe a literary allusion may only be used in the sense supposedly used by the original author," please make that clear, and defend (even assuming the propriety of prescriptivism) why that is a defensible prescription for the English language.

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