"a small number of persons" (distinguished from the many), c. 1300, fewe, from few (adj.).
Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. [Winston Churchill, 1940]
Old English feawe (plural; contracted to fea) "not many, a small number; seldom, even a little," from Proto-Germanic *fawaz (source also of Old Saxon fa, Old Frisian fe, Old High German fao, Old Norse far, Danish faa), from PIE root *pau- (1) "few, little."
Always plural in Old English, according to OED "on the analogy of the adverbial fela," meaning "many." Phrase few and far between attested from 1660s. Unusual ironic use in quite a few "many" (1854), earlier a good few (1803).
There is likewise another dialectical use of the word few among them [i.e. "the Northern Counties"], seemingly tending to its total overthrow; for they are bold enough to say—"a good few," meaning a good many. [Samuel Pegge, "Anecdotes of the English Language," London, 1803]
c. 1300, "completely, altogether, entirely, wholly," adverbial form of Middle English quit, quite (adj.) "free, clear" (see quit (adj.)). Originally "thoroughly;" the weaker sense of "fairly" is attested from mid-19c. For quite a few, etc., see few (adj.). In Middle English the adverb also could be quitely, quitelich, quitli (c. 1300).
late 14c., paucite, "smallness of quantity, scantiness;" early 15c., "smallness of number, fewness," from Old French paucité (14c.) and directly from Latin paucitatem (nominative paucitas) "fewness, scarcity, a small number," from paucus "few, little," from PIE *pau-ko-, suffixed form of root *pau- (1) "few, little" (source also of few (adj.)).
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "few, little."
It forms all or part of: catchpoll; encyclopedia; filly; foal; few; hypnopedia; impoverish; orthopedic; Paedophryne; paraffin; parvi-; parvovirus; paucity; Paul; pauper; pedagogue; pederasty; pedo-; pedophilia; poco; poltroon; pony; pool (n.2) "game similar to billiards;" poor; poulterer; poultry; poverty; puericulture; puerile; puerility; puerperal; pullet; pullulate; Punch; Punchinello; pupa; pupil (n.1) "student;" pupil (n.2) "center of the eye;" puppet; pusillanimous; putti.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit potah "a young animal," putrah "son;" Avestan puthra- "son, child;" Greek pauros "few, little," pais (genitive paidos) "child," pōlos "foal;" Latin paucus "few, little," paullus "little," parvus "little, small," pauper "poor," puer "child, boy," pullus "young animal;" Oscan puklu "child;" Old English feawe "not many, a small number," fola "young horse;" Old Norse fylja "young female horse;" Old Church Slavonic puta "bird;" Lithuanian putytis "young animal, young bird;" Albanian pele "mare."
before vowels olig-, word-forming element meaning "few, the few," from Greek oligos "few, scanty, small, little," in plural, "the few;" a word of uncertain origin.
"pertaining to or of the nature of government by a few," 1640s, from Greek oligarkhikos "pertaining to oligarchy," from oligarkhos, related to oligarkhia "government by the few" (see oligarchy). Related: Oligarchical.
in musical directions, "a little, slightly," 1724, from Italian poco, from Latin paucus "few, little" (source also of French peu), from PIE *pau-ko-, suffixed form of root *pau- (1) "few, little."
"one of a few holding political power, member of an oligarchy," c. 1600, from French olygarche, oligarque, from Latinized form of Greek oligarkhēs, which is related to oligarkhia "government by the few" (see oligarchy).