Submitted by Hairy Scot • December 9, 2013
Just what does “You have two choices” actually mean?
Since “You have a choice” indicates that more than one option exists, what is “You have two choices” meant to convey?
March 11, 2014, 8:49pm
Warsaw Will March 11, 2014, 7:37pm@Hairy Scot - "just another damned Americanism sent to plague us" - yeah, right!
Oh dear! I see no need for "yeah, right!".Comes across a bit nasty, as does your reference to PP, which I take to be directed at Perfect Pedant.
As I stated in another thread; Perfect Pedant was in fact an acquaintance of mine who unfortunately passed away last year.
I fear this forum is beginning to lose some of its charm.Probably best that I refrain from further input.
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March 11, 2014, 8:28pm
Now there are two choices for thee: either to go up on to the Isle and face all; or to die here by my hand --William Morris
he had been searching his brain for some clue that would tell him which of the two choices he should believe in – Jack London
Between these two choices Lord Randolph seems long to have hung in doubt – Winston Churchill
They had now reached that point in the road where three choices offer themselves to the wayfarer – PG Wodehouse
March 11, 2014, 7:37pm
@Hairy Scot - "just another damned Americanism sent to plague us" - yeah, right!
"to seeke some other place of stay and refuge, the better of which two choices, did carry with it the appearance of worse then one thousand deaths." - The World Encompassed, Sir Francis Drake, 1652
"Mr. Conflans had two choices, either to fly, or to stand and sight it out" - Edmund Burke, 1760
"There were two choices before the admirals for his course to the Havannah. The first, and most obvious, was the common way, to keep to the south of Cuba, and fall into the track of the palleons" - Sir Edmund Seymour, 1764
"We have only two choices; either to submit to the present, impositions, or demand the treatment proper for men." - from a Maidstone pamphleteer, quoted in William Cobbett's Annual Register, 1819
"My truly, she has gude cause to speak weel 0' him, was't only for the song he made about her the verra night before his auld surly uncle gae him the twa choices—-Jamaica, or the windy side 0' the ha' door" - Scots Magazine, 1822
".. you have but two choices — the ostracism or the throne" - Edward Bulwer- Lytton, 1837
We got choice from French, and it can be used exactly the same way in French:
"Nous ne voyons que deux choix qui auraient réellement quelque importance par eux-mêmes; l'un est un fils de l'infant don Carlo, l'autre est un prince de la maison d'Orléans" - Revue des deux mondes, 1834
"C'est entre ces deux choix que la grande famille humaine est appelée à se décider" - Benjamin Laroch, 1829
"Mais il paraît qu'il restait deux choix entre lesquels flottait l'esprit de madame de Grignan, deux choix que madame de Sévigné appelait deux extrémités." - Madame de Sevigné, 1862
'that have crept into our language through "common usage" - that's how languages develop - people were speaking and writing English (eg Shakespeare) quite successfully for centuries before the first non-usage-based grammar appeared (Dr Lowth 1762) - the first grammars, such as those by Ben Jonson (c.1600) and Joseph Priestley (1761) were almost entirely based on "common usage". It was only when Lowth and co started to try to 'make sense' of perfectly good idiomatic English, (and sometimes couldn't) that they started inventing all their silly rules.
Some of us are proud to belong to the common people and are infinitely happier that in a democracy our language is governed by common usage rather than by a self-appointed language elite. I really can't see why you put it into inverted commas as though it was some sort of dirty expression. That's just the sort of thing that PP would have done - "pearls before swine" indeed! :)
I really recommend you read Joseph Priestley's Rudiments of Grammar 1761.
March 11, 2014, 4:58pm
The fact that someone's granny used a phrase for decades does not render that phrase correct or logical and no amount of anecdotal evidence will convince me of that.
Apologies for the typo. :-)
March 11, 2014, 4:57pm
@JasperPerhaps intransigent is a bit strong, but I do remain unconvinced.To me the phrase "you have two choices" makes no sense.It's in the same class as "do the math", "you have another thing coming", and all those other "strange" utterances that have crept into our language through "common usage" (or should that be common abuse?).The fact that someone's granny used a phrase for decades do not render that phrase correct or logical and no amount of anecdotal evidence will convince me of that.So we'll just have to agree to differ on this one.
March 11, 2014, 4:40am
Yes, the way that the syntax, which has forty modifying fabrics, is supposedly supports your claim, but, despite the evidence provided by Warsaw Will, AnWulf, who, although didn't provide any evidence, defined it most eloquently, and others, you remain intransigent. I will take a look in my Second Edition of Oxford English Dictionary for quotations later and then get back to you.
March 11, 2014, 3:22am
@JasperYour example "you can have a sofa made to order in a choice of over forty fabrics" says it all."a choice" not "forty choices"regardless of the number of options there is always "a choice"
March 11, 2014, 2:48am
But that's the thing two, three, four, etc. are adjectives and thus restricting the meaning of choice because there can be more than two choices. Here is a definition (as a noun):
"an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities"Example: "the choice between good and evil"
"a range of possibilities from which one or more may be selected:"Example: "you can have a sofa made to order in a choice of over forty fabrics"
It's just specifying the number of choices.
March 11, 2014, 1:48am
I must reiterate my initial point:-Option and choice are not synonymous.If there is more than one option then there is a choice, therefore "you have a choice", or "you have options" (even "you have two/three/four options").Saying "You have a two choices" makes no sense whatsoever. It is just another damned Americanism sent to plague us. Just like the pronunciation of Bernard, buoy, lever et al.And to make it even more galling we have educated native English speakers apparently supporting its use.O me miserum!
March 8, 2014, 3:07am
@porsche - OK, I accept that we can use it idiomatically to mean no choice; here's one from the British National Corpus similar to yours - "Well he's got two choices, he can either eat them or starve.". But the vast majority of the 50 examples shown at the BNC do not have that meaning, but refer to a simple choice. The same if you do a Google Search for "have two choices", or look it up in Google Books.
Interestingly, Googling ' "two choices" "no choice" ' brings up absolutely nothing relevant except for this page. At Google Books I did, however, find this:
'I had no choice' always, always translates to 'I had two choices, but one sucked. So really, I had no choice. Except I did.
Limiting the "two choices" "no choice" search to magazines brings up sixteen examples. None really qualify for this idiomatic meaning, although in a couple of cases one of the two real choices turned out to be so bad that in essence there was no choice, as in this one:
'Since they couldn't sell, they had two choices, hold or buy. Since the institutions are practically the only buyers of IBM, any decision to hold will also result in a declining price ... If they sell or hold the stock goes down. They have no choice'
I actually found moonwave's theory about the idiomatic expression coming from 'two chances' rather interesting, and followed up on it. Reading his post again, however, it seems I missed his opening 'When', and thought he was suggesting that this was the general meaning of 'two choices', which in fact he wasn't. In that respect I concede my mistake. But I still maintain that this jokey use is a minority one, at least in written English. I also think it might be more prevalent in your branch of English than mine, but have no evidence for that.
March 7, 2014, 7:50pm
Anwulf's explanation is simple,clear, and correct; "...two choices" means exactly two, while "...have a choice" can mean two or more. @Will, I think you may have missed part of Moonwaves' point. While I agree that grammatically and semantically, "...two choices" doesn't necessarily mean "no choice at all", it is often used that way in common speech. I frequently hear (and use) it to mean, well, "shut up and eat!" It goes something like this:
"I don't want this chicken. What else is there to eat?""Well, you have two choices. You can eat the chicken... or not eat the chicken."
February 14, 2014, 2:35am
@Moonwaves - Of course "to have Hobson's choice" does have the meaning of no choice.
February 14, 2014, 2:26am
@Moonwaves - I suggest that you have a look at the quotes from various books above. I can't see any idea there that there is any implication of having no choice.
Let's take the joke about hope as read. The 'chances' one is quite interesting as where I come from (the UK), I'm pretty sure "You've got two chances" means exactly that: first one chance, then another.
But it seems that in the States there is an idiom:"You have two chances, slim andnone", to which some people add "and Slim just left town". But I would think you would need the whole idiom to give it that meaning. Australians have something similar to mean no chance: "You've got two chances; yours and Buckley's", or "Buckley's and Nunn (None) ". But there are also plenty of examples of two chances being used literally:
"When you're betting, you've got two chances of winning: you can take the pot there and then, or you can have the best hand" - The New Yorker 1994.
I don't think you can really just extrapolate idiomatic use of one word to a vaguely similar word. Unless you can show us some examples.
February 13, 2014, 8:43am
When "you have two choices" is used to imply you really don't have any choice at all, I think it's sometimes people mixing up saying choices with chances. "You have two chances of that" is often used to tell someone they have no chance. Even that expression is, as far as I know, wrong though and comes from the joke used to tell someone they have no hope of something "You have two hopes of that - no hope and Bob Hope".
January 9, 2014, 12:43am
As the scholars Page and Plant put it, "you know, sometimes words have two meanings." Choice means both 1) an opportunity to choose and 2) one of the options you can choose between. It's interesting that you can, therefore,simultaneously have one choice and two choices. But it ain't a crime against English.
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January 5, 2014, 11:25am
re: "...what is “You have two choices” meant to convey?"
Is this a trick question?
December 13, 2013, 2:13pm
It means that you hav two and only two choices rather than say three choices ... three choosings ... three picks. As WW said, choice also means option.
December 10, 2013, 4:04pm
Hi HS, I presume you are simply expressing a dislike of the use of the word "choices" to mean "options" or "alternatives". But this surely quite standard, as in the expression "multiple-choice question", for example.
And this is nothing new:
"You appear to have two choices — matrimony, or a fight." William Hamilton Maxwell 1835
And here's an example (with three choices) from the University of Michigan, from 1927:
"At the end of this year the freshman would have three choices: he could enter a fraternity, apply for entrance to an upperclass college, or decide to live for the rest of his non-professional career in a private residence."
Admittedly few British dictionaries seem to include this definition, but Macmillan Dictionary does - "one of the things you can choose from" - with this example sentence:
"There are three choices of dessert on the menu"
And Merriam-Webster give these two examples:
"There is a wide range of choices.""Other choices on the menu looked equally tempting."
It would seem that "choices" is used like this slightly more in American English:
But it's found in quite respectable places in BrE too:
"A drop in mining tax revenue as a result of lower commodity prices will offer two choices: ditch the surplus, or save it by cutting spending ..." The Economist
"Two choices presented: a £22 taxi fare to the next meeting – thank you, Ken Livingstone – or a quick mercy dash to Zara"- The Times
"Up to now, the traditional funeral business has really only offered two choices - cremation or burial" - The Independent
"The rat-catcher confirmed my diagnosis and told me that I had two choices: I could lift up the floorboards and remove the rat, or I could wait six weeks, after which the smell would go." - The Spectator
"It is as if there were only two choices – being critical, or being a dupe." - The New Statesman
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