“King Arthur is on the throne and no one outnumbers him.”

Why in the wide world would anyone write this sentence?

What could he have meant?

If he meant that no one individual outnumbers him, as the grammar has it, then the statement is true on its face and utterly unnecessary. No one individual outnumbers any other one individual, that’s for sure.

If he meant “no one” as “no entity”—no person, no family, no army, no nation–then the statement is ridiculous on its face. Plenty of entities outnumber King Arthur, including his own Round Table knights as a group. They, in turn, are outnumbered by any group that has more members than the Round Table has, and such groups abound, so “King Arthur” can’t have meant “King Arthur plus entourage,” either. Even if he uses the Royal “We,” he’s still just one fella.

Is being on the throne a circumstance that makes him outnumberable? Does the writer mean no one outranks him? But saying that would be just as superfluous as saying that no other individual outnumbers him, on or off the throne. The king is the top banana on the baronial tree, which is the same structure that creates and values rank. If he’s king, no one outranks him, by definition. Why say it?

So I fly to the thesaurus. Sometimes in the quest for a fancier vocabulary word students plug in some strange “synonyms.” But neither Roget nor Bill Gates even bothers to offer a synonym or quasi-synonym for “outnumber.” It’s a word that says just what it means, and we have no other words that share that meaning.

I’m baffled. Sometimes that happens.

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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