2

According to definitions 1 and 6 for "point" in this dictionary:

def 1: a single fact, idea, or opinion that is part of an argument or discussion
def 6: a particular quality or feature that something or someone has

The definitions include the following example sentences:

def 1 sentence: They spent the evening discussing the finer points of (=the small details of) world politics.
def 6 sentence: They would spend hours discussing the finer points (=small details about qualities and features) of various cars.

It seems that the sentence for definition 1 could have the meaning of definition 6 and the sentence for definition 6 could have the meaning of definition 1. So, if I just write the following:

They spent hours discussing the finer points.

it seems there is no way to determine which definition of "point" to use here. Am I wrong?

  • 1
    I was not frustrated, just flabbergasted. Is English the only language whose words have multiple meanings? And my advice was correct: exposure to language and realizing that sentences are not spoken without context is the general answer. And meatie is not a new member, I recognize the name. – user6951 Feb 20 '15 at 11:04
  • You are wrong. Sentences are not generally spoken in isolation. They are spoken as part of a discourse in a particular context. They are also spoken for a certain purpose. All these help determine which meaning to ascribe to a word. – user6951 Feb 20 '15 at 11:10
2

They spent hours discussing the finer points.

This, unfortunately, isn't anything I'd expect an American-English speaker to say. You have to discuss the finer points of something. (It's probably a stock phrase that just can't be broken, but it's midnight and I'm running on low sleep, so I hope someone else will come in and be more correct.)

I also wouldn't call "finer points" equal to "small details." Often it would be better defined as "more precise details." If you talk about the finer points of winemaking, you aren't talking about trivia (which is what "small details" may often be translated as, because of "minor details" being a stock phrase to wave off criticisms[1]) -- you're talking about the precise detail of winemaking, which can encompass both subtle effects and tricks of the trade which aren't actually "small."

Therefore, you'll always be able to pick out the definition of "finer points" because it must have context as to which topic's finer points are being discussed. Even if someone is making a play on words -- "discussing the finer points of arrow making" -- there will be context for the pun. (Just about the only time you could see "discussing the finer points" alone is if a writer is straining to make a joke about the idiom, while having the context be "talking about sharp, pointy things" -- literal "fine, finer, and finest points.")

[1: For example: "Hey, I got the snow off your roof!" "...YOU SET MY HOUSE ON FIRE!" "Minor details!"]

|improve this answer|||||
  • Context works both ways. One can say They spent hours discussing the finer points. in situations where "...about X" is understood. So to say the sentence is unidiomatic may not be accurate. Similarly, I don't see any reason that its usage would be confined to a joke about pointy things. – CoolHandLouis Feb 20 '15 at 10:02
  • As a sentence alone (that's not a pun), I would feel "They spent hours discussing the finer points" was a fragment. "They both loved beer brewing and spent hours..." would work, & "They both loved brewing. They spent hours discussing its finer points" would work. But not "the finer points" alone. It's unbalanced without an "of [noun/pronoun/gerund]" attached, when unattached to more words. See oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/english/… . (I tried "finer points" alone at dictionary.com first.) – A.Beth Feb 20 '15 at 11:30
  • One cannot fix an ungrammatical independent clause by joining it with another independent clause. – CoolHandLouis Feb 20 '15 at 11:55
  • But "They spent hours discussing the finer points" isn't an independent clause. Bar "Headline News Grammar," you don't find "finer points" alone without a reference to what they're the finer points of. – A.Beth Feb 20 '15 at 21:25
  • That's exactly what I'm trying to tell you... that you're contradicting yourself. You said "They both loved beer brewing and spent hours..." would work. For that to "work", the sentence structure must be two independent clauses joined by and. – CoolHandLouis Feb 20 '15 at 21:52
0

In:

def 1 sentence: They spent the evening discussing the finer points of (=the small details of) world politics.

the points are ideas (opinions) about world politics. It probably will not include much factual information.

Def. 1, labeled IDEA agrees with this.

In:

def 6 sentence: They would spend hours discussing the finer points (=small details about qualities and features) of various cars.

the points are related to qualities (like performance) and features (like equipment or option) that would be factual in nature.

Def. 6, labeled QUALITY/FEATURE agrees with this.

NOTE: Having said this, I am not familiar with the linked reference or its accuracy, and it would be adviseable to consult with other references for supporting information.

|improve this answer|||||
  • 5
    It's no more ambiguous than saying, "They spent hours going up and down." (Does it mean, the street, an elevator, a slide, some stairs, a teeter totter). In other words it's context that must disambiguate the usage and point to the proper definition. If context declares that they are discussing a debate or argument then def 1 applies. If they are instead discussing something physical then def 6 applies. – Jim Oct 23 '14 at 3:22
0

Note: This started as a comment. It's morphing into an answer. :)


You are right. (I think...)

I think some people may be getting hung up on your ambiguous sentence example. That's not really an issue, right? I mean, it's obvious that one can construct ambiguous sentences, and I think you know this, but that's not what you're really asking. I think you're stumbling because you don't fully understand your own question. That is, you're formulating the question wrong because you are confused.

I think (you can confirm) you were using the ambiguous sentence to try to illustrate your main point (DEF1) which is that the Logman dictionary is confusing when it supplies nearly identical sentences to different meanings. I think you are right that the dictionary is not helping to distinguish the finer points (DEF6) of the definition of point. Furthermore, the dictionary might be misleading.

Here's another way of looking at it. Suppose I have two sentences:

  1. I have one more point to make. (DEF1)
  2. The car's best selling point is it's price. (DEF6)

In the above two sentences, different denotations of point can clearly be identified.

But given the two example sentences that you indicated, it's difficult to see how one is a different denotation than the other. If there's some distinction for finer points of world politics and finer points of various cars it escapes me. Sure, one is about "politics" (which is ideas) and the other is about "cars" (which is concrete). But it would be a use-mention error to ascribe a denotation to point based on the topic of discussion. One can surely make points (DEF1) about cars, politics, and anything else. I would be happy putting both sentences under DEF6.


REFERENCE

The following is an extract for DEF1 and DEF2 from Logman Dictionary online.

Logman Dictionary of Contemporary English: Definition of point):

enter image description here

enter image description here

Both definitions contain the same sentence:

  • Example sentence under definition 1:
|improve this answer|||||
0

"The finer points" is not ambiguous about which sense of "points" is intended, because it's a recognizable fixed phrase. People understand that it means the smaller, more subtle aspects of some topic. "Finer" is meant in its sense of the opposite of "coarser". "Point" is meant in its sense of "proposition" or "small, specific matter for consideration or discussion" (your definition #1) as well as "specific aspect of something" (like your definition #6). The distinction between those definitions is, shall we say, too fine a point to matter in places where this phrase is used.

However, if you say this:

They spent hours discussing the finer points.

there must be some preceding context to indicate what topic the finer points pertain to, otherwise your listener won't know what you're talking about. You're likely to get a response like, "The finer points of what?"

This is clear:

They spent hours discussing the finer points of woodworking.

And this is also clear:

Jamie taught a class on woodworking. Her students were fascinated and stayed after the class to ask a lot of detailed questions. They spent hours discussing the finer points.

This is clear only because the preceding sentences suggest that you mean the finer points of woodworking.

The full, recognizable fixed phrase is "the finer points of topic." Take a look at this Google Books search to see how the phrase is commonly used.

|improve this answer|||||

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.