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I've recently watched Top Gear and one of the presenters said there: ...In fact, I was only doing a Victorian 23 knots. Why did he use the indefinite article when the noun is in the plural? And what does "Victorian" mean in this context?

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A Victorian 23 knots means "23 knots, which is a speed you would have expected in the Victorian era"—that is, during the reign of Queen Victoria, 1837-1901.

  • Hmm, that's interesting, but, alternatively, can I say that without the article? And could you please give me some other examples where you can grammatically substitute a word with its hypernym, just like that? – Rusty Feb 20 '17 at 16:15
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    @Rusty: No, the article is necessary. Constructions like "a Victorian [speed of] 23 knots" are relatively common. Some random examples: (1) a cool [sum of] 100 grand (2) a respectable [number of] 500-1000 visitors (3) a comfortable [temperature of] 50 degrees – psmears Feb 20 '17 at 16:33
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    Wow, so that's what it is, I'd never even noticed that as an "Article + missing word" structure. Looks like you've just found me a new abyss of articles I need to delve into. Thanks a lot! – Rusty Feb 20 '17 at 16:58
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    @JoshuaTaylor: Absolutely not - "Victorian knots" would imply that the "Victorian knot" was some sort of unit of measure, which is definitely not what's being said - rather a knot is a modern unit of measure, but it's the speed of 23 knots that is being referred to as Victorian. – psmears Feb 20 '17 at 20:01
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    @Araucaria That's a good question and a nifty answer. Unhappily, the links to the papers are dead; subject to actual thought about the matter I think you have to parse this as something like [NP [Det a] [Nom [Adj staggering] [QtyNom [# 1500][Nom [Adj drunken] [N partygoers]]]]] (you can plug that in here), with "Nom" representing nominal in H&P's sense and "QtyNom" representing a measured quantity treated as a special sort of Nom licensed by this particular construction. That sort of adhoccery doesn't embarrass me, but I can see how it might some people. – StoneyB Feb 21 '17 at 16:08
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Without seeing the full context, my best guess is that he was using the word Victorian as an adjective to describe something very old/antiquated.

Because he was travelling slowly, he wants to emphasise that his speed was like something very old, such as a vehicle from the Victorian era.

It sounds like it may also be sarcastic incredulity.

Example

"My car is is so slow that it's practically Victorian"

This kind of thing is often done, for example:

Wow, this computer is so old it feels like it is from the stone-age

The stone-age is a period of history 10,000 years ago.

  • The stone age ended approximately 10,000 years ago, but it lasted 2.5 - 3.5 million years, so the stone age is also a period of history 100,000 years ago, and 1 million years ago. – Strawberry Feb 20 '17 at 18:42
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    The explains the use of "Victorian", but the question is about the purpose of "a". – fixer1234 Feb 20 '17 at 21:12

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