A grammar geek confesses

I love my supermarket. The express checkout line has just put up a new sign: Six items or fewer.

Fewer. Not less. God bless the bookish stickler who insisted on using the correct term. I’ll sign up for a store loyalty card.

Of course, the kid at the till thought I was wacky, what with all the smiling and pointing at the sign. Yeah, he said. I’m glad you paid attention to it. You have five items – you’re fine.

13 responses to “A grammar geek confesses

  1. Yeah, grammar geeks unit. And if you want to combine Grammar and Weird (and why not?) what could possibly be weirder than the millions of us who bought Eats, Shoots & Leaves and clasped it to our breasts (as in ‘chests) and murmured “at last, someone who truly understands…”

    You really couldn’t make that up.

  2. Uh, blush. That should have been grammar geeks UNITE. Though I suppose every literary organaisation should have a GG Unit.

  3. A Grammar Geeks unit sounds like an excellent idea. You can be tactical commander. Eats, Shoots and Leaves will be our field manual. You bring the target map pinpointing misplaced apostrophes, I’ll bring the marking pens. Up the revolution!

  4. Whats that about misplaced apostrophe’s? It suggest’s, that their’s a large amount of problem’s in how people is righting, perhaps even in public sight’s like signs’……

    Uh oh, my keyboard is meeeelllllllllttttiiiiinnnnngggggggg!

  5. Patti, kid, snap out of it! I know these things are horrible, but you have to be tough. The grammar battle is a long fight.

    As for me, I’ve taken a bottle of white-out and covered up all those unsightly apostrophes in your comment. My screen looks much better now.

  6. Aside from the appearance of incipient leprosy….

    After a late-night exorcism, my keyboard is all better and no longer spinning around while vomiting punctuation and homonyms. As of this morning, I could spell “lose” without an extra “o.” Phew.

  7. Oh my. I remember the first time I saw Eats, Shoots and Leaves on the counter at Waterstones. I picked it up, read the blurb and had to restrain myself from jumping up and down and crying “yessssssssssssssss”, complete with air punch. At last, someone standing up for grammar. It’s NOT just me that gets p***ssed off with signs that say “carrot’s, 50p/kg” or “game’s for boy’s and girl’s”. I almost wrote a scathing letter to my daughter’s secondary school when we received a letter from them complete with inappropriate apostrophes. If they can’t get it right, what hope is there for our children??????? Can I be drill sergeant?

  8. Of course you can be drill sergeant. But hold fire on your question marks – you might need them for writing scathing letters to grammatical ignorants. As in, “What is the world coming to?” and “Have you no shame?”

  9. Pingback: On Grammar « Grumpy Old Git

  10. From the Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage:

    Here is the rule as it is usually encountered: fewer refers to number among things that are counted, and less refers to quantity or amount among things that are measured. This rule is simple enough and easy enough to follow. It has only one fault — it is not accurate for all usage. If we were to write the rule from the observation of actual usage, it would be the same for fewer: fewer does refer to number among things that are counted. However, it would be different for less: less refers to quantity or amount among things that are measured and to number among things that are counted. Our amended rule describes the actual usage of the past thousand years or so.

    As far as we have been able to discover, the received rule originated in 1770 as a comment on less:

    This Word is most commonly used in speaking of a Number; where I shoudl think Fewer would do better. No Fewer than a Hundred appears to me not only more elegant than No less than a Hundred, but strictly proper. –Baker 1770

    Baker’s remarks about fewer express clearly and modestly — “I should think,” “appears to me” — his own taste and preference. […]

    How Baker’s opinion came to be an inviolable rule, we do not know. But we do know that many people believe it is such. Simon 1980, for instance, calls the “less than 50,000 words” he found in a book about Joseph Conrad a “whopping” error.

    The OED shows that less has been used of countables since the time of King Alfred the Great — he used it that way in one of his own translations from Latin — more than a thousand years ago (in about 888). So essentially less has been used of countables in English for just about as long as there has been a written English language. After about 900 years Robert Baker opined that fewer might be more elegant and proper. Almost every usage writer since Baker has followed Baker’s lead, and generations of English teachers have swelled the chorus. The result seems to be a fairly large number of people who now believe less used of countables to be wrong, though its standardness is easily demonstrated.

  11. what of the countless (no pun intended) essays that you were asked to write in school that were 500 words or less?

  12. Pingback: Grammar geeks battle report: the Oxford comma | lying for a living

  13. Pingback: Congrats Susan Daly — friend of the blog & published mystery author | lying for a living

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