Do You Mean Fewer, Or Do You Mean Less?

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…and no, they’re not just two ways of saying the same thing.  Everyone has a point of language about which they are just a little bit pedantic.  They might frequently feel the need to point out that ‘definite’ contains no ‘a’ at any point.  None whatsoever!  Or perhaps a split infinitive causes them to put their hands over their ears as if someone is dragging broken nails down a dusty chalkboard.  

Maybe they are hyper-particular about use of pronouns, and whether you use ‘she’, ‘he’, ‘it’ or ‘they’ is extremely important to… er… them.  (And in that case, s/he/it/they have my sympathy.  Has it, even.  

But there is only one issue in the English language over which one may get, justifiably, hot and bothered.  That issue is the debate over ‘less’ versus ‘fewer’.  

I don’t know if I was ever actually taught the difference between these two in school, or if I just picked it up from my voracious reading.  (Or if I extrapolated from the example set by my mother, who would near-screech if she heard us refer to a ‘bit’ of milk, rather than a ‘drop’ of it.)  Let us by all means have accurate representation of quantities, please, ladies and gentlemen!

But do people care, especially on the internet?  No, they just post and run, or if on their mobiles they text away in their horrid text-speak.  Perhaps I should say thr hrd txt-spk.  At a rate of a million letters per minute, too!  How do they do it, and do I care very much, no.  

‘They gave me less apples than what they should have done,’ they proudly announce.  ‘There’s less people in Britain what can buy an ‘ouse than ever before,’ perhaps.  Do they ever say, ‘I brought fewer water for the tomatoes because they don’t look like they need much.’?  No, not that I have noticed.  It is a mystery that will never be plumbed.  In the meantime it causes me to run around screaming and gibbering, much as any reasonable person would do in the circumstances.

Of course now that I have revealed myself as a covert language pedant, all of the other language pedants will be eagerly combing through this post searching for errors, omissions and evidence of rank illiteracy.  Well, let them enjoy it.  At least I know the difference between ‘less’ and ‘fewer’, and in this life that’s what really counts.


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