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Hearing that our client had never tried crab, we had cause to take him out to dinner to give him his first taste of authentic Japanese crab cuisine. He was surprised to learn that with boiled crabs, we can eat virtually all parts of the crab down to crab butter.

And here I heard him say something I found to be an interesting use of "de quoi":

Et cinq paires de pattes, ça fait de quoi manger !

I think he wanted to say emphatically:

Not to mention five sets of legs – so many to eat!

{rather than}: Not to mention five sets of legs – that's something to eat.

I myself usually use "de quoi" in a more neutral sense that is essentially equivalent to "something/anything", as in:

Ce plat a de quoi surprendre.

Pas de quoi en faire tout un plat!

On the other hand, it does not seem logical to interpret the "de quoi" he used as "something"; something like the emphatic "so many/much" seems to fit the bill. Though we use the emphatic expression "X is really something" in English, this "de quoi" seems quite a different beast.

Q) Can you think of other examples where "de quoi" is used like this, departing from its usual meaning, "something"? On another note, I wonder if intonation (as indicated by an exclamation point at the end) is enough to shift its meaning from "something" to the emphatic "so many"?

  • Reminds me of the great example of litotes: "You call that a knoife? THAT's a knoife!" – Luke Sawczak Aug 2 '18 at 15:00
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You're right on all points. The only thing you need to complete the picture is that the emphatic so many - so much interpretation comes from deliberately using it as a litotes (understatement with the intention of emphasis). It's such a common figure of speech that people won't even think about it. The meaning is obvious, especially when uttered with a jokish tone. Voilà de quoi réfléchir !

  • Ah, the effect of litotes! Now it's all clicked into place. I'm going off at a bit of a tangent here, but I sometimes see a structure like "Ce plat à de quoi surprendre quand ..." instead of "a de quoi" in messages from native French speakers. Can you think of any context where such a construction (without a verb) is justified? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jul 31 '18 at 10:37
  • @Con- (gratulation?) It could be a preposition in unusual cases such as “Il a mangé un plat à de quoi surprendre”. – Stéphane Gimenez Jul 31 '18 at 10:51
  • I have always put them down to typos! So this construction does exist, then. Does it translate as "a dish with something to surprise you" or more naturally "a dish with some element of surprise"? Ah yes, congratulations! Pardon my French, though. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jul 31 '18 at 11:24

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