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It's always been rather jarring to me that the excellent game "Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small" has that name, rather than the usual expression, "All Creatures Great and Small".

(Most people know the expression "All Creatures Great and Small" from the hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful" or the film and TV series of that title based on James Herriot's books.)

So, my question is: why wasn't the game's title the more familiar expression? Was it some kind of trademark issue relating to the works based on James Herriot's books? Or was the name chosen by someone who wasn't very familiar with the reference and got it a bit wrong, for example? It'd be really interesting if someone knows this story!

Update: someone's asked essentially the same question on Board Game Geek, but with no definitive answer there. It does add the interesting detail, though, that the German name for the game, "Agricola: Die Bauern und das liebe Vieh" is very similar to the German name for the James Herriot TV show, "Der Doktor und das liebe Vieh" so presumably the reference is deliberate. It's still very strange that the English name should have this discordance, though.

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    Upvoted - I do feel like this question is not explicitly off topic, despite most questions on the site revolving around rules and gameplay ambiguities. It's a direct, answerable question, and interesting trivia besides -- I'm not alone in having stumbled over the name, expecting it to be "All Creatures, Great and Small." I've sent a message to (the likely very busy!) Uwe Rosenberg himself on BoardGameGeek about this. If I hear back, I'll update.
    – Manath
    Dec 14, 2016 at 18:19
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    @Manath I think it's on-topic, for the reasons you say and because it's about a board game. We don't share Arqade's (the gaming SE) policy that "Speculative questions about developer intent, with respect to both mechanics and narrative" are off-topic.
    – Samthere
    Dec 16, 2016 at 10:47
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    Never heard of the phrase great and small. I've heard of the phrase big and small many times, and recognize it. I'm in the U.S.; maybe the creators had a similar understanding.
    – kettlecrab
    Aug 15, 2017 at 5:38

1 Answer 1

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I am almost certain this is a UK / US difference. Specifically, I believe it was named this way because of a marketing decision by the US publisher.

Research:

Although Agricola's creator is Uwe Rosenberg: "a German game designer", the main publisher is Mayfair Games: "an American publisher of board, card, and roleplaying games"

As you mentioned "All Creatures Great and Small" is a well known UK book/tv series. This page, shows release titles in different countries. Each language's word for "Great" (Spanish: grandes, Italian: grandi, Dutch: groot, Polish: duze, Russian: большие) all translate to "big" or "large". Even though that is one of the definitions of great, they don't immediately translate to "great". "Big" is a simpler translation that cuts straight to it's meaning.

Why is that simple direct translation relevant? Because that's one common difference between UK and US English. Americans tend to simplify English (some might prefer to say "dumb-down" haha). Check out this page for US/UK spelling comparison, where in every example the US version is just simpler.

I would bet that if the TV series, "All Creatures Great and Small", were remade in the US, that they would change "great" to "big", just like they did with this movie, "All Creatures Big and Small".

If we take a look at that movie's release titles in other countries, the title chosen for UK is "Two by Two". Perhaps they knew the phrase wouldn't sound right in the British ear, and "All Creatures Great and Small" was an already well-known title there.

Moving on, let's find the phrase in a dictionary. The only one I could find that accepted the phrase is OxfordDictionaries.com. Both phrases using "great" or "big" bring up only the phrase "All Creatures Great and Small." So I would call that the proper or truer phrase. Found on this page.

Did Americans change other phrases using the word "great"? Dictionary Time! Not only other phrases but if we look at some of the example sentences given for the definitions in this Oxford UK dictionary, a few don't sit right in my American ear.

UK Dictionary: "I was a great fan of Hank's" --- US preference: "I was a big fan of Hank's"

UK Dictionary: "You great oaf!" -- US preference: "You big oaf!"

UK Dictionary: "My father was a great one for buying gadgets" meaning an enthusiast (In US, this sounds like he was skilled at buying gadgets at good prices) -- US preference: "My father was a big one for buying gadgets" (communicates more of a liking and enthusiasm for it, in the US)

UK Dictionary: "to a great extent" -- US preference: "to a large extent"

(Note that the "US preference" is my personal American ear's preference, so I'm curious if other Americans disagree with any of those.)

Wish I could find more definitive proof, but hopefully this is enough evidence to at least satisfy your curiosity, in case we don't hear back from the game's creator, Uwe Rosenberg.

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    There are counter-examples, such as Great Depression, Great Plains, and Great Lakes
    – ikegami
    Feb 26, 2019 at 13:31
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    In fact, there's a popular political movement to start using "great" again. ;)
    – ikegami
    Feb 26, 2019 at 13:35
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    @ikegami Make America Big Again! Feb 28, 2019 at 13:55
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    @ikegami That's hilarious. But actually, I don't see those as counter-examples. Great Depression, Great Lakes, Great Plains, and even the Great War (WWI), were named back when American English was much closer to UK English. But great is rarely used to mean "large" anymore in the US, especially informally. I would be very curious to survey Americans on the meaning behind each of those examples of "great" to see if they think they mean "big/large" or "superior/outstanding". I suspect the latter, even for Great Plains and Great Lakes, especially for young Americans. Mar 1, 2019 at 4:35
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    The reason American spelling is simpler than British spelling is to balance out the cognitive burden of using imperial measurements.
    – Stephen
    Mar 4, 2019 at 3:58

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