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Lexical Leavings

by Tom Gally

I was asked about an example sentence in which "inherit a fair amount of money" was translated as かなりの大金を相続する. My first impulse was to question the translation, as I interpreted "a fair amount" to mean "a moderate amount," not "a lot." But then I checked some dictionaries and did some Web searches, and it was clear that "a fair amount" does sometimes mean "a lot." For example:
fair adj. 8 [only before noun] used for emphasizing that an amount, size, number, etc. is large: By this time she had saved up a fair amount of money. (Macmillan English Dictionary)

Some of that exposure probably came about because Target has spent a fair amount of money - executives won't say how much - exposing the brand to the New York audience through subway placards, "wild" postings at construction sites, water tower wraps and a gigantic billboard on 42nd Street. Generally, that kind of marketing campaign is pretty expensive, said Rao, of the Carlson School. (Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 22, 1999)
However, other dictionaries define "fair" as meaning "moderate," and it's easy to find examples of that meaning, too:
fair adj. 11 of moderately good size [a fair fortune] (Webster's New World College Dictionary)

fair adj. 3. moderately good, large, or satisfactory; not undesirable, but not excellent: a fair income, appearance, reputation (The Macquarie Dictionary)

How much confidence do you have in the ability of the U.S. government to prevent further terrorist attacks against Americans in this country: a great deal, a good amount, only a fair amount or none at all? (Washington Post-ABC Poll, September 11, 2001)
At least one dictionary, the Shorter Oxford (but not the full OED), gives both meanings:
fair adjective. 5 Of an amount, fortune, etc.: considerable, handsome. ... 17 (Of degree or quality) moderate, adequate, reasonable; (of an amount etc.) not excessive but sufficient
Dictionaries--especially those for learners--should note this ambiguity of "fair" more clearly.
(February 3, 2003)