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I have a question about the boldfaced part in the following. I know "mehr oder minder" means "more or less," but I don't know what it means when it combines with "viele."

mehr oder minder viele bedruckte Bögen Papier, die zusammengeheftet sind und von einem festen Umschlag aus Pappe schützend umgeben werden

If "mehr oder minder" is translated literally into English, then "mehr oder minder viele" ("more or less many") does not make sense in English.

4 Answers 4

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German mehr oder minder, mehr oder weniger does not have the idiomatic meaning of English more or less, i.e. "mostly", "almost", "approximately".

Therefore, the meaning is the literal one: "to a higher or lower degree or quantity", which in the context mehr oder minder viele (bedruckte Bögen) yields eine unterschiedliche Anzahl (von bedruckten Bögen) "a varying quantity or degree of printed sheets".

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In English, you had to rephrase as a more or less high number of …

In German you can simply use viele for that purpose.

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  • Thank you. But in "a more or less high number," the "more or less" seems to modify "high." In English, when "more or less" modifies an adjective or adverb, it means "almost." But is that what the German original means?
    – Apollyon
    Oct 4, 2022 at 3:09
  • Mehr oder weniger means it depends on your understanding of much and little in German.
    – Janka
    Oct 4, 2022 at 3:13
  • Does the German original roughly mean "an almost high number of printed pages bound together"?
    – Apollyon
    Oct 4, 2022 at 3:18
  • I;m wondering what "mehr oder minder" means.
    – Apollyon
    Oct 4, 2022 at 3:19
  • a high number —depending on who you ask— of printed pages bound together
    – Janka
    Oct 4, 2022 at 3:19
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I think some "compare and contrast" with the English expression would help.

I think the main problem is that "more or less" does not mean that in English; it means (per Wiktionary) either "approximately" or "almost". It doesn't work to combine this with an unspecific modifier such as "high", "many" or "large"; you wouldn't say "approximately large" or "almost large".

The expression is covered in the DWDS entry under mehr and they give the definition "in bestimmtem, gewissem Maße" = "to a certain extent/to some extent". It's also covered in the entry for minder, but there they only give examples with no definition. One of the examples is "mit mehr oder minder großem Erfolg".

From the examples I've seen, I think the best translation would be "to varying extent" or "to some extent" depending on the situation. For example (from Die Ziet via DWDS)

Nach Schätzungen ist jeder zweite Deutsche zwischen 52 und 64 Jahren mehr oder minder stark von dieser Linsentrübung betroffen; in der Altersgruppe ab 65 Jahre wird sie sogar bei 90 Prozent aller Menschen vermutet.

According to estimates, every second German between the ages of 52 and 64 is affected by this clouding of the lens to some extent; in the age group from 65 years it is even suspected in 90 percent of all people.

I'd like to note as well that "more or less" is common in spoken English, while "mehr oder minder" seems to be more common in written German.

Also note that these are fixed expressions, not quite idioms but also not to be taken too literally. German and English seem to have changed the literal meaning in different ways and this seems to be the cause of most of the confusion.

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  • I thought it wouldn't be right to flag that as not an answer (as you stated) so I removed that statement.
    – Olafant
    Oct 4, 2022 at 10:33
  • How would you translate "mehr oder minder viele" in the OP?
    – Apollyon
    Oct 4, 2022 at 14:37
  • @Apollyon - I think that's covered in David Vogt's answer. My main point was to compare the two expressions from the point of view of an English speaker. Specifically, that both expressions are almost idioms, especially the English one, so translating literally doesn't really work.
    – RDBury
    Oct 4, 2022 at 15:14
  • @RDBury Is "somewhat many" an OK translation?
    – Apollyon
    Oct 10, 2022 at 12:57
  • @Apollyon - "somewhat many" sounds odd to me. Sometimes a translation doesn't work and you have to rephrase. Maybe something like "a good number of" or "quite a few". All these expressions are vague and it requires context and a certain amount of guesswork to determine the original intended meaning and the English expression that best approximates it.
    – RDBury
    Oct 11, 2022 at 8:49
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The phrase "mehr oder minder" is (sorry: more or less) a synonym for "mehr oder weniger". As you say, this corresponds to the English "more or less".

In my opinion the combination

mehr oder minder viele (or mehr oder weniger viele)

is an infelicitous wording. The word "viele" means "many" and it does not make much sense to specify it by "mehr oder weniger". The phrase mehr oder weniger viele covers a range from a great many to not too many. Actually the word viele is strongly relativized by mehr oder minder. In other words, it is (sorry: more or less) meaningless.

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  • The particular phrasing "mehr oder minder viele" is found in the definition of "Buch" in a monolingual German dictionary.
    – Apollyon
    Oct 12, 2022 at 8:40

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