pluplural adj. comprising more than two members -- beyond plural (which means comprising more than one member). -- Paul Niquette

umbers are so important, we learn to count during our second year of life. Each quantity has its own name. Only up to twelve, however. To count the stars on a clear night, we would need to clog up our little brains with more numerical names than will fit in twelve vocabularies. But a handy pattern emerged. Words like "twenty" and "thirty," "hundred" and "thousand" gave us unlimited counting power.

There is a primitive tribe someplace that has only three numbers to learn: "One," "two," and "many." A teacher told me so, probably during the second grade of school. I remember laughing and feeling superior in the extreme.

"One, two, and many, ha ha."
A second grader doesn't often experience the mastery of a concept unknown to others. If by some chance, such a benighted tribe does not exist, then any teacher who wants to motivate juvenile minds to arithmetic heights would be wise to invent one.

During my second year of college, I chanced to think back and chuckled: "One, two, and many." The stuff of childhood fiction, of course. The scene opens with tribal linguists reviewing the merits of their system of numbers:

"One is manifestly different from none," says one.

"Two, being the least plural, has special significance, too."

All nod sagely.

"Many means merely more plural than two," adds the chief.

There followed in my sophomoric mind comedies of commercial confusion, numerical mischief, situational science.

The natives go about their village pronoucing the word "many" for a few, "many" for some, and "many" for a lot.

Let's be fair: How big is "huge"? How long is a "moment"? For precise reckoning, however, the system is obviously flawed. I put it out of my thoughts. Until recently.

ake marriage. Having one spouse is manifestly different from none. Matrimony ranks among life's major milestones. One's first wedding marks the passage from single to married. One's second requires one's first divorce and one's first remarriage -- each a transition decidedly different in kind from the others. At that point, one's marital experiences include being single, being married, being divorced, and being remarried. There are no more different kinds after that, only repetitions.

Marrying, come to think of it, might well be compared to flying an airplane: Never-before means fear; once, adventure; twice, courage; many, ho-hum. I speak from experience, here.

Take children. One child is distinctly different from none, marking the passage from couple to family. Two children have special significance, too, the second ending the era of the only child and the beginning of collaborative / contentious sibling behaviors. There are no more differences in kind after that, only in degree.

Speaking of degree, with just one you are considered formally educated (groan), two gives you the status of a scholar. Beyond two degrees and you will seek a career in academe, where you might gratuitously coin "pluplural" in place of "many" as a linguistic refinement. Unlikely to catch on, though.

Having one home assures a difference in kind from being homeless. Two domiciles means weekend getaways or vacations in a favorable climate. Owning many dwellings means what? -- investments, perhaps, or merely extravagance.

Likewise, no car and you are afoot. One car means functional transportation. Two assures redundancy. Many cars and you're a collector.

You might try applying "one, two, and many" to common things like political parties, suits of clothes, VCRs, and chairs (no chairs and you sit on the floor, one and you dine alone, two and you have a conversation, many and you put on a banquet).

Differences in kind apply to business in the same crude categories. Having a sole source for a given procurement places an enterprise in a precarious state: if that vendor goes broke or loses the recipe for its product, you are out of business. Two sources will fix that. More than two and you diminish economies of scale.

Reciprocally: no customers, no business. One customer makes your company dangerously dependent. Two customers will impose uneconomic support costs. Only many customers will produce a successful business.

ook at queueing theory. With no clients waiting, the server is idle. With one client, the server is serving and the client is being served. With two clients, one is being served and one is waiting. There are no more differences in kind after that, only in degree -- specifically the number of waiting clients, the length of the queue.

In science, no data may not mean refutation of a theory (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence), but it means you don't even have a start at proving something; one datum can be a fluke; two data a coincidence. Science demands many data.

So universal and practical are these perceptual categories, I stopped laughing at that primitive tribe and now lament the lack in language that celebrates their insight, hence "pluplural." Better to have laughed and learned than never to have laughed at all. Tell your kids.

Which is not to say I don't dig digits.