In the 1980s the curriculum at the Joshua Eaton Elementary School in Reading, MA, included a lesson on the differences between language quantifiers, such as several, many, some, a couple, and a few.
Despite the good intentions of my teacher, I often forget where you draw the line between “some” and “many.” In my writing and that of my clients’ when I am editing, I avoid using such words and instead use the number or a more specific quantifier to avoid ambiguities. After all, not everyone got that lesson at Joshua Eaton and, if they did, they might not have remembered it.
When he [Harrison Alter, an emergency-room physician] had asked whether she [a patient] had taken any medication, including over-the-counter drugs, she had replied, “A few aspirin.” As Alter told me, “I didn’t define with her what ‘a few’ meant.” It turned out to be several dozen.
That ambiguity, in part, led to the doctor misdiagnosing the patient with subclinical pneumonia, when she in fact had aspirin toxicity.