sometimes less is fewer

I’m not perfect (gasp) when it comes to proper grammar usage, few of us are.  But as a writer who invites the public to read her words, I strive to be as good as I can be, and to get better all the time. My oldest sister is an English teacher by trade, and together –ever since we were children — we take a somewhat perverse pleasure in correcting family members.

Our other sister can’t spell her way out of a paper bag, but that’s okay because she’s in Accounting and I haven’t balanced my checkbook since 1986. We all have our quirks, eh?

Now, that said, I have this one particular pet peeve that’s been driving me UP THE WALL lately. In commercials on the radio, on the television, speakers, news men and women, every friggin’ Tom, Dick, Harry and Lucille ! They’re all getting it wrong, it’s being broadcast all over the airwaves, searing into brains around the globe and boring a hole through my own. And now, just yesterday, for the second time in several months, I’ve seen it used by non other than professional editors!

Months ago, while reading a blog written by a professional editor who reviews books for her blog, she did it and I became so frustrated, I logged on just so I could correct her.

And now, yesterday, while reading an interview wherein a literary agent who also works as a professional editor did it twice, in one paragraph!

What made yesterday so much more irritating was the fact that, later in the same interview, this agent spoke about writers who submit to him without even a working understanding of spelling and grammar. How writers these days seem to have very little mastery of the English language and how they don’t seem to realize it’s a necessity in this business.

I’m not going to name either of them, or link to the articles, because frankly I’m too lazy right now to go find the links and I’d quite like a nap.

What is this offense that has me so riled, you ask?

Less.

They say Less, when they mean Fewer.

You hear it all the time. “Use Proactive and you’ll have less pimples.”

“FEWER pimples!” I scream at my television set. “Less acne, FEWER pimples!” But they don’t hear me.

They don’t care.

In this interview yesterday, the unnamed agent/editor said “…that means less books acquired.” And again “.. since less books are being sold…”

FEWER ! That means FEWER books acquired ! Since FEWER books are being sold !

Less book buying, fewer books.

You see?

I scream at the internet, but it doesn’t hear me. It doesn’t care.

Power to the People!

Make Love, Not War!

I could do with less of these fewers.

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7 thoughts on “sometimes less is fewer

  1. Yanno, it’s funny…I don’t get out the shotgun, but it DOES irritate me when words are deployed clumsily like that.

    But that said, I use grammar rather loosely myself, when I’m writing, and I think about it all the time. the only reason I allow it in my own stuff is 1) I am doing it deliberately and am conscious of it, and it is for a particular effect and 2) I KNOW how to be grammatically proper.

    (the effect is, I think that rigid proper “grammar nazi” stuff is to fiction and dialog what rigid, straight-black-lines are to some art, if you follow my comparison.)

    But that said, it bugs me when people confuse not less and fewer, but “momentarily” and “in a moment.” PARTICULARLY if they’re busy lecturing someone else about language and grammar. 🙂

  2. See that’s the thing – as writers, we can play with grammar and language – it’s our job. But we’re doing it on purpose. Like I tell my Accountant sister – you have to master the language before you can play with it.

  3. When I was much younger, and thought these things were important, I used to be a grammar nazi, too. Alienating friends and enemies is a fun pastime, but as I’ve gotten older, I find it’s too exhausting.

    I have enough trouble keeping my own grammar in line without trying to police the world. I note these things when I see them, but I don’t get as angry as I used to. It’s just not worth it. Language is such a transitory thing, so fluid and evolving, that what is incorrect usage today will be common tomorrow.

    It’s inevitable and you’ll only end up as road kill by standing there with your hand up shouting, “Stop!”

    The less I worry about these things, the better my ulcer feels.

    But what bugs me is when people say anxious when they mean eager. “I’m anxious to see the new Batman movie.”

    No! You’re EAGER to see it. Unless you think it’ll suck, then you’re probably are anxious.

  4. I don’t think I’d be very comfortable as a writer if I was worrying about my individual words and their usages LESS.

    Anyway, I don’t think it’s policing, per se, unless Kristine takes a shotgun to ’em in retribution, in which event, I have never been here and don’t know any of you.

  5. I used to police. I have no idea what Kristine does (although registering so she could leave a comment sounds close).

    And I only meant I worry less about external errors and typos. My own I agonize over still.

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