I’m often accused of being overly pedantic when it comes to the use of language. Words are our primary means of taking things from one brain and inserting them in another. Even the best of wordsmiths find this a frustrating and imprecise process. There is no means to actually know that what I mean when I say red is what you mean when you say red. There are hundreds of words for colors in the English language; one man’s hot pink is another man’s fuschia, but for a yet another the two have clear differences.
I was complaining to God today about the seeming disappearance of the word “fewer.” There’s always been people that use the word “less” when they should be using the word “fewer,” but with the rise of the web it seems like “fewer” has become destined for the history books. This only bothered me a little when it was confined to amateur blogs and forum posts, but several times over the last few months I’ve seen “less” used where “fewer” was the right word in several theoretically professionally written and edited articles. I was particularly alarmed to hear the misuse of “less” in a television news report just the other day.
Let me explain the difference between this particular hot pink and fuschia. The word “less” is used when describing a quantity that is some sort of mass or volume. The word “fewer” is used when there is a number of individually recognizable items. So, for example, you would say that when you have less water, you can pour fewer glasses. I hear all the time people say things like “There were less people at the party than I expected,” when they should say there were fewer.
God was fairly succinct in his reply. He told me that language evolves, he said if I don’t like that I should learn Latin.