I read this sentence in "Kafka on the Shore":

A pretty bare-bones meal, though there were unlimited seconds on miso soup and rice.

Now, M-W dictionary defines the word "second", in this context, as:

(informal) A second course or second helping of food at a meal.

Now, as I take it, after eating an additional serving of food after finishing your first one, if you grab another one it's your third and the next one fourth. So, unless you consider the most recent of the meals as your first one, the phraseology is wrong in my mind. Am I correct?

  • In a purely logical sense, maybe "unlimited seconds" doesn't make sense. But it is what people say.
    – stangdon
    Commented May 28, 2021 at 19:20

2 Answers 2


In the strictest of definitions, you are correct. You can only have a single "second" helping of a meal; the subsequent helpings will be the third, the fourth, etc.

But in casual parlance it can be said to have a first helping, and then seconds, and then "more seconds." I agree with Astralbee that "as much as you could eat" would be more logically correct in this situation. But I would not correct anyone who said "unlimited seconds," whether a native speaker or a learner.


I don't think it is correct, more from a logic point of view than a grammar one.

As you have pointed out, "seconds" is an idiomatic way of refering to a second helping of food. Sometimes we jokingly use terms like "thirds" etc but they are not in the dictionary.

If food is "unlimited" then subsequent helpings can't continually be referred to as "seconds". In fact, if they are unlimited from the outset then it seems illogical to even refer to your second helping as "seconds" - it's just "more"!

There are a number of different ways to refer to "unlimited" food on offer, including a buffet (which implies you can serve yourself), and "all-you-can-eat" (which is sometimes a buffet, but can include food served to you).

I would instead say:

A pretty bare-bones meal, though there was as much miso soup and rice as you could eat.

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