When I write short short fiction that requires adherence to a certain word count, I count words such as “a lot” and “no one” as one word since they have their own meaning which is not the same as either one of the comprising words. Do you do this as well? Thanks so much.
I certainly understand the question and thank you for asking it. I go by what I’ve found to be the standard word count rule for many readers whether they are journal editors, publishing house editors, or agents, and that is to count words separately. In this case, “a lot” would be two words, not one.
I do understand the gray area, as the common understanding and intention of “a lot” is that it functions as a single meaning; however, as far as I know, “a lot” is still an article plus noun as “a” and “lot” and are being used individually in their own definitions and parts of speech the same way as their collective meanings. The etymology of “a lot” or “lot” specifically suggests that “lot” is “someone’s share” (Online Etymology Dictionary), and therefore, does function, both in the contemporary and classical sense, as a share. “A” and “lot” function as two words, the “a” interchangeable with a pronoun or proper noun. The same can be said about “no one” and “no” and “one.” An example:
- She gathered a lot of stuff from the apartment before leaving him.
- She gathered her lot of CDs and bonsai trees and the miniature collection of plastic bobble heads before leaving him.
- She left him a lot.
- She left him on Wednesdays and Fridays and every other Saturday evening between the hours of ten and eleven when the moon was full or her favorite cover band played “You Shook Me All Night Long” at the biker bar down the street.
One might suggest replacing “a lot” with “lot,” plus the added details, is a better construction, and therefore, “a lot,” as one meaning, could be considered clichéd and too vague. In the second usage, “a lot” appears to be completely inappropriate for the intention of the clause and might even be considered a far lesser construction for many of the same reasons as the prior. Regardless, as I see it, the intention of “a lot” is two words in both cases.
All in all, thank you for the question. I don’t know if I’ve ever really thought on “a lot” this much prior to your question. I suppose, when I do think about it, I don’t use “a lot” much in my own writing, except perhaps in informal dialogue. Your question has made me think on this not only as an editor but also as a writer. Much obliged.