There were things I definitely missed while I was out of the office. What does a word nerd do when she can’t talk about words because her brain’s not working quite right?
Yep, she goes a bit nuts. Am I glad to be back!
During the cold snap before the last one, I happened to see a sign that made me wish I had my camera with me … this happens often enough that I really should remember to carry my camera everywhere. At an ice kiosk, a sign read that it was closed “do to the cold weather.”
Wrong—it’s “due,” dudes.
We’ve probably all seen signs like this, such as one at a car lot asking you to “sale your car.”
Doug Lansky has basically built a cottage industry on such mistakes, with his Signspotting books and associated swag, blogs, Facebook page and Twitter feed. Many others do the same, but there’s something about the signs he finds and those that are submitted, combined with his snark, that’s addictive.
For a photo of a sign that reads “$499 love & sofa,” Lansky remarks: “But wait! Call and order some love right now and we’ll throw in the sofa!” His response to a handwritten sign on a pizza restaurant’s window reading, “We hiring”? “Grammar not required.”
That’s snarkasm after my own heart.
Unintentionally funny signs are those we can all laugh at … well, except for the person who made the sign. Sometimes it’s the wrong word used, or an unfortunate confluence of graphics, or sometimes it’s just lost in translation.
There are also the signs that make grammarists twitch. Shirley Roe asked last week just what’s wrong with those “10 items or less” signs at your local retailer’s express lanes.
We won’t even get into the fact that much of the time “express lane” is a misnomer; the subject at hand is “less” versus “fewer.”
Normally I would have answered sooner, but because of that unexpected time off, I had to wait. Another reader wondered if I’m the only one here who could answer the question. Actually, just about any editor here could answer Shirley’s question; however, only one has a regular column in which she often talks about words and grammar. (Thanks, by the way, to Frank Fellone for his musings on words last week, and to Karen Martin for stepping in to edit the page while I was out.)
Generally, you should use “fewer” when referring to something that can be counted (such as bananas or people), and “less” when discussing quantity or things that can be measured (like an amount of water or money). Associated Press style makes just this distinction, as do many other style guides. That’s the definition you’ll see used by most print media.
The Elements of Style throws another distinction in, after noting that “less” refers to something that can’t be counted and “fewer” to things that can:
“‘His troubles are less than mine’ means ‘His troubles are not so great as mine.’ ‘His troubles are fewer than mine’ means ‘His troubles are not so numerous as mine.’”
Don’t even get me started on alternate usages, many of which are the result of common (mis)usage. Webster’s thus offers an amendment to the less/fewer rule:
“Less refers to quantity or amount among things that are measured and to number among things that are counted.”
Confused? Take a deep breath, and let it out … and if you’re a grammar Nazi, learn to live with those “10 items or less” signs. Yes, it’s grammatically incorrect according to traditional usage and style, but there’s no use getting upset about it.
I personally am not particularly bothered by the less/fewer debate, but I understand it. My emphasis is on common-sense grammar because strict adherence to some grammar rules makes for some very stilted conversations and writing. Getting rid of awkward phrasing and misplaced modifiers is more important to me.
When you see signs that upset your grammarist tendencies, in most cases (like those “10 items or less” signs that hurt no one), just grumble under your breath and roll your eyes; that’s what I do. And send me pictures of the signs … I always need a laugh.
And if it really bothers you, write a letter. We can’t edit the world, but we can always complain to corporate offices.
There’s something about a health crisis that humbles you, and scares the living daylights out of you and everyone who loves you. Whether it’s cancer, a heart attack, stroke or other unfortunate event, it has the tendency to overwhelm.
And often, the reaction of others can overwhelm as well.
I have been awed by and am extremely thankful for the kind and thoughtful reactions to last week’s column about my stroke. I’ve heard from friends and acquaintances (including my sixth-grade teacher), as well as people I never would have expected. I even had people offer to check in on Luke if it happens again (they don’t know what they’re offering). The messages have been touching and funny … and much-appreciated. Many have been more than sweet and extremely patient, not even making note of my mistyping (yes, I’m aware my name isn’t Bremda).
My entire intent was to alert everyone to symptoms that just might be very serious but that we might ignore (especially us women). And if you don’t do stupid things like I did (such as not calling 911 immediately and driving myself to the emergency room), that’s all the better.
There are more than enough dumb things in the world without adding to them.