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In the Wikipedia article "Death of Azaria Chamberlain" it reads:

In 2012, some 32 years after Azaria's death, the Chamberlains' version of events was officially confirmed by a coroner.

What does the "some" mean here?

What is the difference to "In 2012, some 32 years after Azaria's death, […]"?

  • It's just another way of saying about, approximately, around, not quite, almost, etc. Sometimes you'll here some 32 odd years ago or some 32 or so odd years ago, but those are informal or colloquial to my ear. It's another way of saying not exactly. – Giambattista Nov 30 '13 at 20:39
  • @JohnQPublic: If you replace some in that sentence with any of the words about, approximately, around, not quite, almost, you change the meaning of the sentence by making the listener less confident in the accuracy of the number "32" and changing the focus of the sentence to emphasizing that "the events were officially confirmed 32 years after her death" from "the events were officially confirmed 32 years after her death". Contrast with if you used the word "literally" in the colloquial usage as a meaningless intensifier, where the sentence then reads exactly the same. – Matt Dec 1 '13 at 0:22
  • @Matt While they're not all completely synonymous, to me, some 32 years ago means not exactly, approximately, or just under/over. When I encounter that phrase, I assume that the speaker intended to say I haven't counted, very close, nearly/almost/just over, not exact to the date, or, much less formally, don't quote me on that figure. – Giambattista Dec 1 '13 at 17:02
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    @JohnQPublic: In some cases, some means approximately. But not in this case (see my answer). Here it's just an intensifier, as you can see by the fact that the semantic meaning of the sentence shifts significantly if you replace "some" with a word that means "approximately", but very little if you change it to a different intensifier. – Matt Dec 2 '13 at 20:45
  • @Matt Point taken; now that you mention it, it could be read as an intensifier. That's poor diction for an encyclopedia though. I've actually never heard someone use it that way, but it does make sense sematically. Apparently I misread your answer the first time around. – Giambattista Dec 2 '13 at 21:34
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In this case, some is being used as a generic intensifier rather than to mean "approximately". It is used to express the surprise and incredulity by the author that it took a full 32 years for a coroner to officially record the Chamberlain's set of events leading up to the death after Azaria died - a time period quite dramatically longer than one would normally expect.

The sentence therefore is semantically equivalent to the following:

In 2012, 32 years after Azaria's death(!), the Chamberlains' version of events was officially confirmed by a coroner.

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    It becomes clear to me now. At first I doubted that why the author chose the word some and yet wrote 32 years, not some 30 years. (I thought that maybe he didn't know exact number of months. Silly me.) Thanks Matt. – Damkerng T. Nov 29 '13 at 13:57
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    The sentence is not semantically equivalent to your version. The wikipedia says about 32 years but your version says fully 32 years, which is false. (17 August 1980 to 12 June 2012 is less than 32 full years.) – James Waldby - jwpat7 Nov 29 '13 at 16:43
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    @jwpat7: It was "fully three percent lower" has the same semantic as "it was some three percent lower". Both are used exclusively as intensifiers and neither mean approximately - they both mean that "it was surprisingly/even/literally/astonishingly/most certainly three percent lower". Contrast with "It was some three percent lower or so", which means "It was approximately/circa/close to/near three percent lower". – Matt Nov 29 '13 at 16:51
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    It's interesting how much disagreement there is on this answer. I wonder if some speakers only have the approximator some, while others have the "considerable quantity" some as well. – snailcar Nov 30 '13 at 17:43
  • @snailboat: Perhaps the controversy is over my claim that "fully" can be just an intensifier (indeed, many words can be used "just" as an intensifier without intending their "real" meaning, e.g. "literally", "entirely", "fully", "completely", "totally"). I stand by that assertion - at least in the colloquial usage of it - but it's not what this question was about, so I've altered my answer to avoid using it. – Matt Nov 30 '13 at 22:59
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"In 2012, 32 years after..." would guarantee accuracy (of 32 years)
while
"In 2012, some 32 years after..." is to indicate to the reader that this fact is a close approximation. It doesn't guarantee the fact that exactly after 32 years, the said event had occurred.

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    That's often what “some X years” means, but not in this case. Here, it's an intensifier. – Gilles Nov 29 '13 at 14:36
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    I don't see how almost can be an intensifier. It would indicate that the actual time is less than 32 years, but not much less (a couple of months at most). – Gilles Nov 29 '13 at 14:55
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    Although "some" can be used to mean approximately, it would normally have to be paired with or so to make it more obviously the case that this is the intended meaning. For example "In 2012 - some sixty years or so after the war - we found an unexploded ordinance at the school." – Matt Nov 29 '13 at 15:26
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    Matt, your suggestion that pairing of or so with some is common does not reflect my experience. Perhaps you could quote some evidence if you think it is common. – James Waldby - jwpat7 Nov 29 '13 at 16:45
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    @snailboat: Sure. Some can absolutely be used as an approximator without or so, e.g. "It was some four hundred years ago that ..." or "The police said some four hundred protesters turned up for the event". But in this case, given that the number is already as accurate as any normal English speaker would give without sounding ridiculous (nobody would say "31.82 years later" or "31 years, 9 months and 26 days later"), some is here clearly not being used to mean approximate. It's a throw-away word designed only for emphasis with no semantic meaning in the sentence; i.e. an intensifier. – Matt Dec 1 '13 at 0:04

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