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Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/podcast-russias-language-police/25444722.html

Retweeting a Twitter tweet or liking a Facebook post that the Kremlin doesn't like can now land Russians in prison.

And salty language in theater performances, films, and the media can now lead to stiff fines.

The stated goal of the former is to combat extremism. The purported objective of the latter is to promote traditional values and preserve the "purity of the Russian language."

But few doubt that the real point of both is to tighten the Kremlin's control over discourse - and therefore, over politics.

Few doubt, to my mind, is supposed to mean that there are a few people who have doubts that the real point of the policy is to tighten the Kremlin's control over discourse. I don't get it. Shouldn't it be the other way around like few doubt that the real point of the new policy is to promote traditional values and preserve the purity of the Russian language but in reality it's about tightening control over what people can express?

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    It means that only a few people doubt (disbelieve) that the point is to tighten control; everybody else believes that that is exactly the point. Jul 9, 2014 at 18:22
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    "Few doubt that" = "Almost everybody thinks that" It's that simple.
    – doc
    Jul 10, 2014 at 11:24

2 Answers 2

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"Few doubt" means "there are not many people who doubt...". By contrast, your interpretation "there are a few people who have doubts that...", would be written as "a few doubt...".

The difference is between "few" (meaning "not many") and "a few" (meaning "a small number"). Just to complicate matters, "quite a few" actually means "a fairly large number", and "not a few" can be used to mean "a fairly large number" as well, though thankfully is more rare!

For more examples, see these references, and note in particular the cited examples on those pages:

  • Oxford: few vs not a few
    "a few" as in "a few questions" vs "few" as in "few thought to..."
  • Dictionary.com: few
    "few" as in "Few artists..." vs "a few" as in "a few drinks"
  • Chambers: few
    "few" as in "few books" vs "a few" as in "a few rabbits"
  • Merriam-Webster: few
    "few" as in "few of his stories" vs "a few" as in "a few fish"

Each of those pages also shows good examples of other usages, not just limited to the ones I listed above but more such as "the few". The over-arching theme, of course, is that it is an indeterminate number, but the shades of meaning between the different uses can be subtle, varying perhaps only because of context.

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One way to try to make better sense of this is to change the word few with most. For me, it was easier to understand the opposite meaning with most.

But most doubt that the real point of both is to tighten the Kremlin's control over discourse - and therefore, over politics.

So if most doubt that the purpose is to control discourse, than that means that most people think it's for some other reason than controlling discourse.

Now lets do the opposite of that, with few doubt, and we get that most people think it is for controlling discourse. Only a small amount, few people, believe it is for some other reason.

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