If someone says "I go to the theater all the time" we know implicitly that this means "a lot" and is not meant to claim that literally "For all times t, I am going to the theater at t." Similarly if we say that American actors are bad at doing British accents, we don't mean that there is not an American actor who can do a convincing British accent. We mean something like: The rate of American actors who can do British accents is low relative to some standard.

Is there a linguistics concept for these sorts of phrases which are stated everywhere on a domain (i.e. if literally translated into formal logic, would use the "for all" quantifier) but context is understood by all competent speakers to communicate a statement about a rate taken over the domain?

The topic feels like it's in the ballpark of Gricean maxims but isn't any one of them.

  • could be hyperbole.
    – prash
    Sep 12 at 5:55
  • @prash , I don't think these are hyperboles, perhaps more like figures of speech? Or perhaps generalisation. I'm not sure actually, none of them feel right at second thought. Sep 12 at 12:57
  • 1
    Your second example, "American actors are bad at doing British accents", is a generic. The semantics of generics are often modeled with a special generic quantifier rather than the universal quantifier. One reason for this is that generics admit of counterexamples (as you noticed) and the universal quantifier fails to predict this.
    – user236343
    Sep 13 at 15:20

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