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Fingerfull or ...

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

Reviewing a story, the word "fingerful" kept getting flagged by the spell-checker. Figuring it was a regional usage, I used the old reliable "fingerful vs fingerfull" search to see which was the American spelling, only there are only a few, mostly non-standard dictionary entries for either word, and most were vaguely British.

Do Americans never say fingerful, because I've heard it all my life, as the preferred spelling fingerful, fingerfull or (God help us) finger-full? The best reference I could get for any of these was "fingerful" from Oxford and theFreeDictionary. None even listed the obnoxious finger-full.

Replies:   sunkuwan  awnlee jawking
sunkuwan

@Crumbly Writer

h-how can you get a finger full?
handful is easy, you can make a bowl with your hand. But fingers?

how many fingerfuls is a pinch of salt?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@sunkuwan

h-how can you get a finger full?
handful is easy, you can make a bowl with your hand. But fingers?

how many fingerfuls is a pinch of salt?

A fingerful is how kid's eat peanut butter, by sticking their germ-infected fingers into the family's communal jar. I needed it for a story, where a father is too sick to feed his lover and teenage daughter, and that's all he can manage.

Basically, anyone who's ever had small children should be familiar with the term, as I heard it as a child and used it with my own kids.

Replies:   sunkuwan
awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

The best reference I could get for any of these was "fingerful" from Oxford and theFreeDictionary. None even listed the obnoxious finger-full.


You need to check that theFreeDictionary reference again :(

AJ

Ross at Play

The OxD lists -ful as a suffix. Pretty conclusive, IMO.

sunkuwan

@Crumbly Writer

Ok, thanks.
We don't really have that saying in our language.

garymrssn

This is my understanding of the usage.

When it comes to peanut butter, the kids were fingerful. They'd grab a jar and get a finger full.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Remus2

Fingerful, dash, pinch, so forth, all subjective terms for small quantities.
Not all fingers are equal obviously. I've seen those and many more called out in various recipes. Given the size of my hands verses that of my wife and daughters, it is of sufficient variation to assure inaccurate reproduction of those recipes between us.

Americans do use the term dependent upon geography. Someone from the Midwest might ask for a pinch of salt on their hoagie, yet someone from Connecticut might ask the same for their grinder. Someone from the deep south might be wondering if they needed to order some nuts and bolts instead of salt if they ordered a grinder. Folks from Connecticut might take offense to the later (yes, that's experience talking).

StarFleet Carl

@Remus2

Americans do use the term dependent upon geography.


Apparently, very much so. 56 years old, from Indiana, now live in Oklahoma, NEVER heard of fingerful before. I'm familiar with pinch, dash, hoagie, and grinder, though.

Replies:   Remus2  Crumbly Writer
Remus2

@StarFleet Carl

The term originated in Europe as I understand it. It's use in America tends to break down into specific ethnic groups. I don't know for sure, but I've found some anecdotal evidence that it's related to the foxfinger/digitalis plant flower.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digitalis
I've heard it used in NYC, Harrisburg, and one other I can't remember.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@garymrssn

When it comes to peanut butter, the kids were fingerful. They'd grab a jar and get a finger full.

Precisely.

@sunkuwan

We don't really have that saying in our language.

OK. Let's start there. It's at least common is select parts of America. It is used anywhere else?

Crumbly Writer

@Remus2

Fingerful, dash, pinch, so forth, all subjective terms for small quantities.
Not all fingers are equal obviously. I've seen those and many more called out in various recipes. Given the size of my hands verses that of my wife and daughters, it is of sufficient variation to assure inaccurate reproduction of those recipes between us.

Those are recipe book references. The usage in my story is explaining how he was able to cope in extreme circumstances. See the extract below:

Knowing that Ellen was gone, he got up, lifting Alice in his arms and struggling on unsteady legs to carry her to a separate bed, not wanting to cramp Alice and too weak to dispose of Ellen's body. Instead he gathered what he could: dry crackers and some cans of food he'd scoop out a fingerful at a time, along with some more water and lay beside her.

In this usage, fingerful is more descriptive of the process than a measurable quantity.

Replies:   REP  awnlee jawking
Crumbly Writer

@StarFleet Carl

Apparently, very much so. 56 years old, from Indiana, now live in Oklahoma, NEVER heard of fingerful before. I'm familiar with pinch, dash, hoagie, and grinder, though.

Throughout the American gold rush years (both back east and out west), pinches and similar measurements were the 'gold standard', but fell out of favor for obvious reason: because the rail-thin prospectors would presents 20 pinches, while the well-fed and beefy clerks would only measure 8!

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Remus2

I've heard it used in NYC, Harrisburg, and one other I can't remember.

Since we moved so frequently as children, I'm never sure where I picked up various phrases from (I picked up many British spellings from reading British and Russian classics in school). But my father's family was from New York (Long Island) and we visited there nearly every summer.

But it doesn't answer my initial question. When it is used, is it "fingerful" or "fingerfull"?

@awnlee jawking

You need to check that theFreeDictionary reference again :(

Depending on how I searched (which phrase), FreeDictionary would either insist that "fingerful" or "fingerfull" was the accepted spelling, which only makes me doubt FreeDictionary's value as a reference even more. :(

Replies:   Remus2  awnlee jawking
REP

@Crumbly Writer

In this usage,


It is descriptive to you. To me, I don't know what it is describing.

I've heard the term used on a few occasions to mean dipping a finger into something and pulling it out coated with that something. Your use of the term in that context makes no sense.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Remus2

@Crumbly Writer

But it doesn't answer my initial question. When it is used, is it "fingerful" or "fingerfull"?


It's "fingerful" when used.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@REP

It is descriptive to you. To me, I don't know what it is describing.

I've heard the term used on a few occasions to mean dipping a finger into something and pulling it out coated with that something. Your use of the term in that context makes no sense.

In that context, it means it's the ONLY way they could eat (i.e. survive).

Used in cooking it's a god-awful measurement, worthless in terms of making a successful dish, but with children (and fiction in this case) it's simply a description of how someone eats (i.e. "The kids keep taking fingerfuls out of the cake!").

You're point in comparing the two terms is like comparing apple filling to orange crates.

Replies:   REP  Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@Remus2

It's "fingerful" when used.

That's what I assumed, but wasn't sure given the few isolated references. But without many sources ... but I'll leave my usage as it is.

Ross at Play

According to OxD, it must be fingerful. They recognise the suffix -ful which may be validly added onto nouns as needed.

And please, try changing 'lifting' and 'struggling' in your sample to 'lifted' and 'struggled'. That changes a staccato mess with a comma splice into a simple, smooth-flowing list, IMHO.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
REP

@Crumbly Writer

You're point in comparing the two terms


2 terms??? The only term I addressed is fingerful.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Used in cooking it's a god-awful measurement


Maybe in cooking, but…

The first time he came, it was a spoonful. But after the third time, it was no more than a fingerful.

awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

Depending on how I searched (which phrase), FreeDictionary would either insist that "fingerful" or "fingerfull" was the accepted spelling,


Searching for 'fingerful' returns:

"fingerful
Word not found in the Dictionary and Encyclopedia.
Did you mean:
fingerfull"

Ngrams is 100% fingerful. A Google web search finds 60% 'fingerful', 40% 'fingerfull'.

Words which retain the -full suffix tend to be obscure and less evolved. The -ful suffix is more future-proof ;)

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

In this usage, fingerful is more descriptive of the process than a measurable quantity.


IMO it rather nicely combines an indication of measure and the method of eating. It's a $10 word, but the meaning is self-evident from the context. Good choice.

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

And please, try changing 'lifting' and 'struggling' in your sample to 'lifted' and 'struggled'. That changes a staccato mess with a comma splice into a simple, smooth-flowing list, IMHO.

Yeah, I'm in the process of updating the dated story in a piecemeal process, and haven't yet reviewed the language or involved editors yet.

Crumbly Writer

@REP

You're point in comparing the two terms

2 terms??? The only term I addressed is fingerful.

You 'compared' my usage of fingerful by comparing it with one used in preparing recipes. One is an outdated measurement reference, while the other is a somewhat common regional description of childlike behavior. Just as dictionaries typically list multiple distinct definitions, this usage also has separate usages, despite only one usage being listed in only a couple of sources.

See the following for the distinction:

@Switch Blayde

Maybe in cooking, but…

The first time he came, it was a spoonful. But after the third time, it was no more than a fingerful.

Replies:   REP
Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

Ngrams is 100% fingerful. A Google web search finds 60% 'fingerful', 40% 'fingerfull'.

Words which retain the -full suffix tend to be obscure and less evolved. The -ful suffix is more future-proof ;)

Thanks! That was precisely the authoritative reference I needed for evaluating these types of regionalisms. While -full may be preferred in certain usages, -ful is best in actual usages or with entirely newly coined terms.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@awnlee jawking

IMO it rather nicely combines an indication of measure and the method of eating. It's a $10 word, but the meaning is self-evident from the context. Good choice.

Thanks. Those are the best uses of those $10 words, you don't use them often, but when you do, you spare yourself lengthy descriptions struggling to explain basic concepts, yet provide enough context for the readers to identify the word's meaning.

Now I've just got to clean up the multiple random patches I've been making over a 180,000 word book! :(

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Thanks! That was precisely the authoritative reference I needed

I'm feeling pretty miffed at this point about who you thanked for that. :(

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I'm feeling pretty miffed at this point about who you thanked for that.

There were a few people who agreed, but awnlee backed it up with the ngrams comparing book and random online usages. While I'd agree with using 'handful' earlier, his was the most thoroughly documented answer.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

What could be a more "authoritative reference" than the OxD stating to always use '-ful'. That was your answer.

Other dictionaries weren't going to be different. The OxD state when there's any difference between and AmE and BrE. And I would mention it if they had.

I wouldn't have said anything if you'd thanked AJ for several pieces of supporting anecdotal evidence.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

What could be a more "authoritative reference" than the OxD stating to always use '-ful'. That was your answer.

My confused stemmed from the lack of references, and my worries that the term is entirely a 'regional usage', so I wasn't sure whether Oxford was a reliable source in this instance or not.

While your Oxford reference did provide the intellectual justification, Awnlee's ngrams provided the more authoritative numbers I was seeking, as it confirmed which usage was more accepted, rather than what a few 'experts' dictated.

Although I frequently check on regional uses, this was the first time I couldn't track down how they applied (i.e. is it an British or American usage, and does the spelling change between the two).

In other words, both of you helped, and we quickly reached a consensus about which form everyone preferred, but awnlee settled the issue with some specific usage data, rather than scattershot opinions.

It wasn't that your advice wasn't appreciated, it was just that I was searching for something more concrete, as I wasn't even convinced it was an accepted usage to begin with.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

If I has said the OxD lists fingerful, then I would agree with you about that only being one piece of anecdotal evidence.

I actually said OxD lists the suffix -ful. That applies to whatever word it is attached to. It was all you needed for a definite answer to your question.

There's a different question that might interest you: where is fingerful used? I agree that AJ's evidence would be helpful for that.

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

What could be a more "authoritative reference" than the OxD stating to always use '-ful'.


One that was correct?

There are a few uncommon words where -full seems to be preferred, but presumably Oxford Dictionaries isn't sufficiently comprehensive to cover them.

Google for 'words ending with full'.

AJ

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

Google for 'words ending with full'.


The first one I found had "artfull" and "awfull" and "hatefull."

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

"awfull" and "hatefull."

Thanks, SB, for sparing me the effort of looking.

REP

@Crumbly Writer

It is descriptive to you. To me, I don't know what it is describing.

I've heard the term used on a few occasions to mean dipping a finger into something and pulling it out coated with that something. Your use of the term in that context makes no sense.


You seem to be extremely confused, CW.

The above is what I posted. I don't see anything in the above about 2 terms. I also see no reference to cooking.

madnige

OxD lists fingerful but not fingerfull, not even as a regional/national variation.

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

The first one I found had "artfull" and "awfull" and "hatefull."


That looks like relictual usage not yet eliminated by transitions to the 'ful' suffix most of us would use automatically.

As well as 'fingerfull', theFreeDictionay lists 'quiverfull'.

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

As well as 'fingerfull', theFreeDictionay lists 'quiverfull'.

It's worth every penny at twice the price. :-)

I suggest that dictionaries are obliged to make judgement calls all the time for whether to assess something as a variation or as always a mistake.

I doubt any criteria for such decisions are even possible and different dictionaries end up making different choices.

Personally, I wouldn't want to use anything which any of the best-known dictionaries assessed as always a mistake (perhaps in the dialogue of a character with a regional dialect).

awnlee jawking

@madnige

If you take a modern novel (except by Dean Koontz), it would be a surprise to find it containing any words not in OxD. Dictionaries are good at covering words by frequency of use. But in terms of absolute coverage, they probably cover less than 10% of current, genuine, not-made-up-on-the-spot words. Absence from a dictionary does not prove a word to be illegitimate.

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
awnlee jawking

For what it's worth, the first reference to fingerful(l) acknowledged by the full Oxford English Dictionary is:

1604 J. Manning Complexions Castle xxiii. 11 If you can, get a fingerfull of liuerwoort, and first bruise it a little.

AJ

Crumbly Writer

@madnige

OxD lists fingerful but not fingerfull, not even as a regional/national variation.

At this point, it's clear that no one suggests fingerfull, but when Ross first stated that OED declared -full as dead, I given the lack of references, I wasn't sure whether that adage applied to Brit-English or American-English. Since I rarely use the OED, relying on American dictionaries since I already have problems with using British spellings rather than Americanized ones, there was little incentive. While the OED is clearly the leading authority in British English, it's standing as a authority on American usages isn't as clear.

That was my main objection, I wasn't convinced whether the spelling was a regional variant, or the usage was.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

Dictionaries are good at covering words by frequency of use. But in terms of absolute coverage, they probably cover less than 10% of current, genuine, not-made-up-on-the-spot words. Absence from a dictionary does not prove a word to be illegitimate.

Most dictionaries have traditionally been slow to recognize clear usage trends, only accepting newer usages only once the older usage has almost gone extinct. To make up for this trend, those same dictionaries are now quick to introduce hundreds of new words which never become common usage, while still fighting tooth and nail over when to drop hyphens. Thus I'm always hesitant about usage patterns when dictionaries argue absolute restrictions. They don't have the best record in those regards. :(

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

While the OED is clearly the leading authority in British English, it's standing as a authority on American usages isn't as clear.

For future reference, can we agree I'll try to list an American dictionary too and you'll check an American dictionary rather than suspecting some difference? :-)

They do all tend to be good and consistent about identifying regional variations.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

For future reference, can we agree I'll try to list an American dictionary too and you'll check an American dictionary rather than suspecting some difference?

They do all tend to be good and consistent about identifying regional variations.

Agreed. My problem wasn't with you, or my doubting the OEDs assertion, but rather with my not knowing why there were so few dictionary references (i.e. because it was a regional usage, because it might be a British/American thing, or because dictionaries in general (as they often do), simply gloss over or ignore most modern usage patterns (though this was an older phrase, dictionaries may not want to tackle it for fear it'll never become a 'standard' usage).

Given those doubts, I was reluctant to accept the OED's 'definitive' answer on the subject. :(

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