quite が意味論的に厄介な副詞であることについて，「#4233. なぜ quite a few が「かなりの，相当数の」の意味になるのか？」 ([2020-11-28-1])，「#4235. quite a few は，下げて和らげおきながら最後に皮肉で逆転？」 ([2020-11-30-1])，「#4236. intensifier の分類」 ([2020-12-01-1]) で取り上げてきた．ある場合には「完全に」 (fully, absolutely) の意味で，別の場合には「そこそこ」 (fairly, rather) の意味で用いられるからだ．強意語の類型でいえば，Maximizer としても Compromizer としても用いられることになり，混乱は必至である．
本来 quite は Maximizer として「完全に」のみを意味していたが，19世紀に Compromizer としての「そこそこ」の語義が発達した．OED で quite, adv., adj., and int. を引いてみると，大区分の第III項に後者が取り上げられており，初出は1805年となっている．
quite (fully, absolutely; fairly, rather)
This word is notoriously tricky for foreign learners of English, who find it difficult to decide which sense to use, or which is meant. 'I was quite alone' means that I was absolutely alone, but 'I am quite tired' means that I am fairly tired, not very. And if she is 'quite ill', is she very ill or only slightly indisposed? The original meaning of 'quite' in English was the 'absolutely' one, which dates from the fourteenth century. As John Skelton wrote in his charming poem Phyllyp Sparowe (1529):
Comfort had he none
For she was quyte gone.
And as Robert K. Douglas wrote in his Non-Christian Religious Systems (1879): 'A man should be quite certain what he knows and what he does not know'. Quite. Yet it was in the nineteenth century that the now common sense of 'fairly' for 'quite' arose. It developed out of a special usage of the word, from the eighteenth century, that meant 'actually', 'really', implying that what the writer or speaker said was really so. For example, Fielding, in Tom Jones (1749), wrote that a certain widow was 'quite charmed with her new lodger', meaning that she really was charmed (not simply satisfied), and in one of his essays (1848), the astronomer Sir John Herschel wrote that: 'A ship sailing northwards passes quite suddenly from cold into hot water', meaning that the change really was sudden, not gradual, as one might expect. So when Thoreau, in his narrative account Walden (1854), wrote: 'Perhaps I have owed to this employment and to hunting, when quite young, my closest acquaintance with Nature', which did he mean, 'surprisingly young' (as in the earlier sense) or 'fairly young' (as in the new sense)? It is not always so easy! What has actually happened is that the earlier use of 'quite' (meaning 'really') has come to be associated with certain adjectives, such as 'different', 'separate', 'right', 'wrong', 'sure' and so on, while with other, less 'definite' adjectives the modern sense is the commoner. But it is still quite difficult to determine on occasions, and one needs to be quite certain which of the two senses is meant.
先日から問題になっている quite a few も19世紀前半の初出だった．quite の上記の意味変化と関係しているのだろうか，いないのだろうか．
・ Room, Adrian, ed. NTC's Dictionary of Changes in Meanings. Lincolnwood: NTC, 1991.
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