3

Does the suffix "some", when it comes after a number, conjure up some kind of an orgy?

Here is an example:

Have you heard that Jim and Tina made up a foursome with Jean and Bruce?

would you ever ask such a question from someone you barely know (considering that you just assume he or she has some idea of what you're talking about)? In other words, is the risk of misinterpretation subtle enough for you to take?

Here I'm not taking into account those who have a so-called "dirty mind" and tend to interpret everything their own way. Instead, I'm interested to know how the majority of English-speaking people (especially those of the United States) would interpret that.

  • 1
    I think this is a completely pointless question. Context is everything, and it really makes no sense to present us with an effectively "context-free" utterance simply in order to ask how many people see sexual overtones. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 2 '13 at 17:09
  • @FumbleFingers "Hello FumbleFingers, would you like to have a foursome with me and two other users of StackExchange?" This is a real situation and I didn't provide any broad "context" because I assumed that you know I'm talking about forming a study group (while you weren't though). Now if you got slightly offended, this proves that there is a default interpretation for such a sentence, the one I would try to avoid by providing more context. – user1555 Sep 2 '13 at 17:38
  • 1
    I'm certainly not "offended". If you stop to think about it, I'm sure you'll realise that both sexes often fantasise about threesomes with two others of the opposite sex, even though in practice I believe only a minority actually have the experience. But PC or no, most people are quite naturally homophobic at the visceral/physical level, so sexual fantasies (and indeed, actual experiences) involving a foursome are far less common. But frankly, I don't see that any of this is On Topic for discussion on ELU. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 2 '13 at 17:48
  • Thank you. I wasn't even thinking about the difference between threesome and foursome because I just wanted to provide and example. Now I can conclude that without giving more context, my sentence would be either fine (when people know what I'm talking about) or it would be nonsense (when they don't have a clue) and either way I won't offend them unintentionally. – user1555 Sep 2 '13 at 18:16
  • 5
    Many words can prompt either juvenile sniggering, or people to blush at an innuendo; I'd count threesome among the words with a relatively high probability of doing that. Obviously, the less context provided, the more likely it might evoke the innuendo. Despite FF's last remark, these things do occur now and then. I had a friend once tell another couple "Wanna check out the bed?" and then blushed after he said it (he wanted to show them new furniture). I think this is a fair question, but, by deliberately providing so little context, you made it hard to see what you were driving at. – J.R. Sep 2 '13 at 21:17
5

I don't think the word would be inherently interpreted with sexual connotations, but as is often the case, context is all important.

For example, your sentence is lacking context and begins with "Have you heard...?" which suggests some element of gossip. However, if you added context to that, such as:

Do you know who Jim and Tina are playing golf with?

Yeah, they've made a foursome with Jim and Tina.

The issue with your question is that, in isolation, the lack of context seems deliberate - as there's no indication for what purpose they've formed a foursome - and that's where the potential for innuendo appears.

Of course, people will also take cues from your tone and body language, so your meaning should be conveyed correctly, given that you provide sufficient context.

Just to make clear, I'm a British English speaker (and live in that region), but I think it's important to provide a global view. I'm not personally sure that the Americans would see matters any differently, but I do find issues of this nature fascinating.

  • 1
    I would like to note as an American, I have never heard the term foursome used in any other than one of two contexts: 1) sports (usually golf, but I think I've heard it with tennis too), 2) sex. I will note that '-some' isn't the potentially sexual part, as with 'gruesome twosome'. Threesome: wink wink, nudge nudge. Foursome: maybe. Twosome, fivesome, seventysome...I'd just assume it was a group of that size, unless I was being winked at and nudged. Otherwise I entirely agree with your answer, +1 – BrianH Sep 3 '13 at 4:49
  • " Innuendo " my word for the day! – NANDAGOPAL Jun 26 '14 at 14:09
6

How any word or sentence is understood depends on context.

Sentences like “Jim and Tina made up a foursome with Jean and Bruce” only occur by themselves like this in grammar books, where they illustrate some particular point. In real life they occur inside some larger context—a conversation, or a letter, or a history, or whatever.

This sentence might occur in the context of activity at a country club, where it would most likely refer to groupings in tennis or golf or bridge. It might occur in the context of a grad-school seminar, where it would most likely have to do people working together on a presentation. Or it might occur in the context of gossip about the sexual behavior of friends or business colleagues, where it would most likely have the piquant implication you suggest.

Context, context, context.

0

"Foursome" can be appropriate in non-sexual contexts. For instance, a foursome at bridge. Or a foursome at doubles (or mixed doubles) tennis.

Although I once wrote a short story in which two couples traded spouses after playing mixed doubles tennis.

  • Tom, interesting! But, how many copies, if any, had been sold? – user114 Sep 2 '13 at 20:59
  • Unless the two couples were in the same room, though, that would only make one foursome – the one on the tennis courts. You could say there were two instances of "swinging" though: starting with the swinging of rackets on the tennis court... – J.R. Sep 2 '13 at 21:07
  • What is "a foursome at bridge"? Can't it have more than one interpretation?! – user1555 Sep 3 '13 at 15:43
  • @Nate: Bridge is a card game played with four people at a table, generally referred to as South (declarer), West (leader), North (dummy), and East (responder). – Tom Au Sep 3 '13 at 20:36

Your Answer

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