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Don't just swallow anything they throw at you! Мало ли какие слухи про нее ходят...

I assume the sentence means:

You never know / Who knows what kind of (unreliable) gossip may be circling around about it.

I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around why the adverb "мало / little" coupled with the interrogative particle "ли" gets to have this meaning. Can I interpret it as:

What kind of gossip may be circling around – Do we know even (a) little about it?!

What kind of gossip may be circling around – Just how little do we know about it?!

What kind of gossip may be circling around – We know so little about it, don't we?

... asking in a rhetorical fashion? I wonder if some verb like "знать" is omitted?

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  • it's one of those cases, an idiom, where the whole is larger than the sum of its parts – Баян Купи-ка Mar 16 '18 at 15:10
  • @БаянКупи-ка Hi. If the main idea is "now matter what/how/when/where", I wonder if "мало ли" is close in meaning to, say, "какие слухи ни ходили бы" or "какие слухи ни ходят"? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Mar 16 '18 at 15:14
  • hi, i posted a separate reply – Баян Купи-ка Mar 16 '18 at 15:28
  • to your question of the type of sentence мало ли is used in, it's not subordinate, it's a self-standing interrogative sentence, whether it's used after a full stop or after other punctuation marks, here's a host of examples from Corpus of Russian language, although it rarely ends with a question mark. – Баян Купи-ка Mar 16 '18 at 18:19
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Мало ли comes from a rhetorical question which assumes answer No (-"Мало ли?" -"Много."). It signifies distrust based on a lot of contradicting information (possibly existing only in speakers imagination).

It this case it means the following:

Out of a lot of gossip which may be circling around, you can't trust any.

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Мало ли has got at least three meanings

1 It doesn't matter, no matter

Что же она ничего не сказала? Ведь должна была сказать!– Мало ли что должна.(Why didn't she say anything? She should have said!– It doesn't matter what she should do.

2.To be on the safe side, just in case, everything can happen

Возьми ружье, в лес идешь, мало ли что. (Take a rifle, you are going to the forest, everything can happen)

3.A lot,different things

Мало ли о чем говорят. Всему верить нельзя.(People talk a lot, but you shouldn't believe it.

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  • Hi. So is it more like: "Don't believe anything. -- no matter what kind of gossip ...", with "мало ли" introducing a subordinate clause? And more literally: "Don't believe anything -- that having little to do with any gossip circling around"? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Mar 16 '18 at 15:07
  • Right, with говорят it's like this almost always. – V.V. Mar 16 '18 at 16:42
  • Do you think that "Мало ли какие слухи про нее ходят..." is interchangeable with "какие слухи ни ходили бы" or "какие слухи ни ходят"? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Mar 16 '18 at 17:19
  • No, not quite."whatever gossip can be heard of her"is какие слухи ни ходили бы – V.V. Mar 16 '18 at 18:03
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I think I found an English expression that's very close in meaning: "there's no telling what kind of gossip may be circling about it". Then again, it doesn't quite have the dismissive undertone which is an option with мало ли: it may be there but doesn't have to, depending on context.

No verb is omitted from мало ли, it qualifies какие. (And it can do that with any other interrogative pronoun.)

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  • Hi. Now I'm terribly confused... because "there's no telling" is similar to "You never know / Who knows", but is quite different from "no matter what kind of". Now I'm not sure which interpretation to go on... – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Mar 17 '18 at 12:53
  • @Alone-zee I don't think "no matter what kind of" is a good fit. "No matter" expressions aren't complete, self-contained statements; "мало ли" ones are. Other than that, "мало ли" is kind of neutral with respect to whether the impllied multitude should be a cause for concern, or the opposite, a cause for dismissiveness. It works either way. Maybe the common denominator is "a cause for rethinking your current attitude". – Nikolay Ershov Mar 17 '18 at 13:16
  • @Alone-zee yeah it's a good option, albeit limited by context, because мало ли unlike there's no telling can be used when the speaker is certain about the subject only dismisses its importance – Баян Купи-ка Mar 17 '18 at 14:18
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Based on V.V.'s examples I believe in all cases мало ли anywhere in a sentence bar at the end can be translated as there is/could be a lot/different ... so what?

Мало ли какие слухи про нее ходят... - There is/could be a lot of gossip/different rumors circulating about her, so what?

-Ведь она должна была сказать! - But she had to say!
– Мало ли что должна. - There is/could be a lot she has to do, so what?

Translation of мало ли (что)? placed at the end of a sentence is more straightforward, because it doesn't imply opposite meaning being just a shorthand of a complete question мало ли что может случиться?

Возьми ружье, мало ли (что)? - Take a rifle, lots of things can happen

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  • Hi. So what is the precise meaning of "мало"? Should I interpret it as "little/few" or "a lot"? Is it incorrect to translate it as "now matter what/how/etc"? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Mar 16 '18 at 15:35
  • @Alone-zee in this construction it means a lot, мало ли is a form of question разве мало? which always implies the opposite, e.g. разве это он? = он ли это? (is this him?), разве я тебе не говорил? = не говорил ли я тебе? (didn't i tell you?), i agree with @FiatLux's answer – Баян Купи-ка Mar 16 '18 at 15:47
  • The plot thickens! Given the presence of the eclipsis at the end, I wonder if you use "мало ли" to convey a sense of frustration/disappointment when there are lots of unpleasant/unwanted things? And in my example, can I interpret it as: "(sigh) To think how many groundless rumours are circling around..."? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Mar 16 '18 at 16:06
  • @Alone-zee i don't think there's connotation of frustration/disappointment and i don't feel like the speaker is uncertain about the multitude and nature of the rumors, s/he's rather disinterested in them meaning that whatever rumors there're they don't necessarily have to be trusted – Баян Купи-ка Mar 16 '18 at 16:17
  • So does "no matter how many ..., it doesn't matter / I don't care" more fit the bill? Or "regardless of the many rumours"? Also, I'm not sure if a "мало ли" clause is a subordinate one. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Mar 16 '18 at 16:27
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1) Often we say, 'Мало ли что люди говорят' (Or 'Мало ли, что разные люди говорят о разных людях')

2) Sometimes we say, 'Мало ли, что о ней (о нём) говорят'

.... But when we say or hear the second variant, our brains perceive it as the first (Мало ли, что разные люди говорят о разных людях. Вот и о ней тоже говорят).

FiatLux's answer is an illustration of this. FiatLuxc actually explained the first option.

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