Writer’s Craft #43 – Measure or Count
Leslie Gadallah is published by Del Ray. See her books listed at ISFDB.
English speakers can talk with their hands in their pockets because our language can express delicate shades of meaning without arm-waving. But subtleties can be confusing.
Take, for example, the difference between quantity and number. The supermarket aisle that is labeled “6
items or less” is wrong. Few is the answer to how many and less is the answer to how much. “How much hamburger do you want, a kilo, more or less?” “How many tomatoes, five, six, more or fewer?”
The sports announcer says, “Less people came to the game today.” But unless he’s weighed them and compared that weight to previous weights, he means fewer people came. Quantity is what we measure. Number is what we count.
Perhaps part of the problem lies with “more”. It’s perfectly legitimate to say, “much more” and “many more”. And “much less”. But “many less” just won’t fly, no matter how we might long for symmetry.
Are these complaints didactic, picayune, nitpicking; does anyone care anyway? In two hundred words or fewer, I want to tell you that I do. Such errors blunt the language, make it less precise and therefore less useful. And I don’t like that.
How do you feel about it? Measure up, and be counted.