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I was reading a book earlier today and it said this sentence which I understand:

Mary walked down the street fully clothed in beautiful silk and bought a hot dog from the corner stand.

This means that Mary was wearing silk when she bought a hot dog.

Then I was reading a news article online and it said something like this:

A man walked down the street without a lot of clothes and was then luckily taken into custody before he could run into traffic.

I don't understand what this means. Does it mean that the man didn't have a lot of clothes with him like in a box or something or is it a way to say homeless person?

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    It seems to me like some sort of understatement/euphemism. While it's literally accurate, it implies a bit more than just what it literally says. – Tin Man May 16 '16 at 21:27
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    In the first sentence, "fully clothed" is not the same emphasis. She was fully clothed in beautiful silk - in other words, the author is emphasizing the material, not the amount of clothing. In other words, of whatever amount of clothing she wore, all of it was silk. – GalacticCowboy May 17 '16 at 2:02
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The second sentence could mean a couple of things:

  • A naked man walked down the street and was then taken into custody
  • A man who was not fully clothed walked down the street and was then taken into custody.

Or the more literary suggestion you made in your question:

  • A homeless man walked down the street and was then taken into custody.

I think the least likely meaning is the one you suggested where the man is carrying clothes with him. I doubt many people would come to that conclusion.

If you want to say the man was walking with few clothes, I would suggest:

A man carrying a few articles of clothing with him...

or

A man carrying some clothes walked...

or

A man brought some clothes to the swap meet...

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    I didn't downvote, because this is a pretty good answer - except for the affirmation of the OP's interpretation. You say "I think the least likely meaning is the one you suggested... " That is an understatement. I have never heard a homeless person referred to as "a person without a lot of clothes." Otherwise nice answer. – Adam May 16 '16 at 21:42
  • I don't think the man without a lot of clothes was naked. "Without a lot" implies some clothes, but not many. If the news story meant "naked" it would have said "naked" or "without any clothes". – nnnnnn May 17 '16 at 6:39
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As you suggested, "fully clothed" means completely dressed, like anything you would wear out of your house without being embarrassed.(Think a shirt and pants, or a dress, or some other complete outfit.)

If someone said "I'm wearing a lot of clothes" I would take that to mean more than just "fully clothed", such as wearing a t-shirt, sweater, and jacket. However is is dependent on the context. If it's 100 degrees out, and I'm wearing long sleeves and pants I might say "I'm wearing a lot of clothes for this weather".

If someone is "without a lot of clothes", as in your example, they are likely wearing less clothes that is appropriate for the situation. In your quote the man may have been arrested for running around outside in his underwear. Another example, the opposite of my one above, would be if you are outside and it is 40 degrees and are shivering in just a t-shirt and shorts you might say "I'm not wearing a lot of clothes!"

  • While "fully clothed" is an expression, in this case the phrase structure is: "fully (clothed in beautiful silk)", that is to say, not only fully clothed, but also fully in silk. – reinierpost May 17 '16 at 8:49
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A man walked down the street without a lot of clothes and was then luckily taken into custody before he could run into traffic.

The end of the sentence (which I have bolded) gives you a clue. Why was the man taken into custody before he could hurt himself? Probably because he was mentally ill or under the influence of drugs or alcohol and was running in the street in his underwear and socks or something less than a full outfit of clothes a normal person would wear. If he was completely naked, the article probably would have said that, so he must have had some clothes on, but wasn't dressed in an acceptable way for being outside in public.

Normally we would say something like "She didn't have a lot of clothes on." Without more context we wouldn't know if it was just hot outside and she was wearing revealing clothes, or if someone had just saw a half-naked woman running in traffic.

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In this case "not a lot of clothes" is clearly an euphemism for indecent exposure. In a more general sense, though, "a lot of clothes" refers to the quantity rather than the appropriateness of the attire. The cops would still pick you up if you were wearing socks, shoes, a t-shirt, a sweater, a jacket, a bandana and a cap.

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To add to some of the other answers, it's NOT implying that the man in the second sentence had some clothes but fell short of what would be considered "a lot". It's a figurative way of saying that he was severely underdressed, possibly totally naked. I suppose it would be considered litotes.

I think it's fair to say that in English, when we say "not a lot" we almost never mean that someone has many of something but falls just short of "a lot". We instead mean that they have few of something.

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    I think it does imply some clothes, just not many and not enough to meet accepted standards of decency in the community where this happened. If the man was naked, it would make more sense to say "without any clothes" or "with no clothes" or just "naked". I agree with your second paragraph. – nnnnnn May 17 '16 at 6:43
  • It also depends on locally accepted standards for reportage as well as for decent clothing. "Without a lot of clothes" could be a euphemism for "stark naked" in a place or time where the latter would be regarded as offensive. – nigel222 May 17 '16 at 10:55
  • @nnnnnn I've edited the first sentence for clarity; it was supposed to convey the same sentiment as the 2nd paragraph. – A C May 17 '16 at 15:53
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I think it depends on the owner's mind. Fully is enough. A lot means maybe the amount is large, but isn't enough for the owner.

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