A battle with grammar barbarians…

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an article about grammar barbarians written by Jay Thorwaldsen…

I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who corrected my grammar. Continually. Thirty years later, I did the same for my own children, although I’m not sure they’re yet old enough to appreciate it.

As a result of the corrections I received and the ones I issued, I have developed a reasonably good ear for grammar even though I don’t always know the rules behind it. In fact, my ear for grammar is why I received the t-shirt pictured above, as a Christmas gift from a friend. (I do always strive to make such corrections silently — to everyone except clients and family, that is.)

Still, I was cheered and encouraged to read Jay Thorwaldsen’s piece in the Palo Alto Weekly, headlined: “Where is ‘Conan the Grammarian’ in the battle with grammar barbarians?” I particularly agreed with his regret over the blurring between “over” and “more than.” But I’d never thought to blame the problem on fast food! Here is how Thorwaldsen put it

Thanks largely to McDonald’s selling “over 5 kazillion” burgers, most of us have blurred “over” and “more than,” relative height versus quantity.

And I echo his rue over the general misunderstanding that “less” and “fewer” are synonyms. In fact, “less” should be used only for volume (e.g.: less soup) and “fewer” should be reserved for items you can count (e.g.: fewer apples.)

For a quick overview of where, as a society, we’re falling down in our language (as well as some sensible advice on when to avoid the grammar police — it is okay to begin sentences with prepositions, for example) — be sure to read this charming piece.