Teacher: I wish you'd pay a little attention
Student: I'm paying as little as I can.
This pun relies on the important difference between "little" and "a little".
little is rather negative. It suggests "not much, not as much as necessary". Look at these examples:
- Sorry. I can't help. I speak little Thai.
- Unfortunately, there is little hope of finding any survivors.
a little is more positive. It suggests something more like "some". Look at these examples:
- Why don't you ask Ram for help? He speaks a little Thai.
- It's okay. There's a little butter in the fridge.
Remember: a little > little