Friday, 27 June 2008
This one has nothing to do with mission or ministry. It's a mind leak. In particular it's an oozing from my anterior pedantry lobe. Be warned. Even as I type I am my donning my sleeveless black academic gown over my leather-elbow-patched tweed jacket and reaching for the dustless chalk.
I am getting more and more narked by the inability of those who should know better to distinguish between the words less and fewer. More specifically I'm worried that we are in danger of losing fewer altogether. Consider these real life examples from recent radio or TV broadcasts: "There are now less cars on this stretch of road than last year"; "Less new musicians are waiting to be signed by a major label"; "Less and less people are using the village post office." Aaargh!
When speaking of discrete, distinguishable or, if you like, countable units the correct word to use is fewer. When referring to an undifferentiated mass or an abstract concept, then it's less. So that's less rain but fewer rain drops; less time but fewer minutes; less pedantry but fewer pedants. If you're still not clear try this online questionnaire.
OK so this is hardly a life or death issue. And yes, I know that language evolves, but not all change is good. If the word fewer disappears our language will be diminished, we will have lost one more subtle distinction and we will be the poorer for it.
So for the sake of our glorious tongue; in the name of William Shakespeare and Ian McMillan, embrace your inner pedant, join the resistance, together we can save fewer for future generations. Imagine how grateful they will be.