What’s your biggest grammar peeve?


Want to know something quaint? I get mail not only here but also at my aol address that is published in FORTUNE, which is an actual magazine that comes to you on paper, ladies and gentlemen. Go buy a copy right now. Some of you may not remember the experience of sitting down with a physical magazine. It’s great! They’re even more portable than a 5-pound laptop and they never have problems loading their home page.

Anyway, you’d be amazed at how many people weighed in with stuff that drives them crazy about the way other people talk. I thought that given the lusty back and forth on the subject here, you might enjoy this one. And if you do, possibly send me yours as well. Or yell at me on the subject, the way some of you like to do. Here it is:

“Hi Stanley,

I just read my wife’s copy of the August 20th edition of Fortune magazine and was thrilled to see the topic you chose for ‘While You Were Out’. Great tongue-in-cheek approach and, oh-so-true!

I have my own pet-peeve: I must tell you that I have been getting sick and tired of reading and listening to people misuse the word ‘less’ (instead of the word ‘fewer’) since the inception of the Lite Beer from Miller commercials back in the 1970’s! You remember, don’t you: the ones which pitted two individuals or two groups against each other with one of them taking the firm stance that Lite Beer from Miller ‘TASTES GREAT’ while the other one countered with ‘LESS FILLING’? Anyone who watched Monday Night Football HAS to remember them!

Well, sometime in the late 70’s or early 80’s, I noticed a distinct upswing in the use of the word ‘less’ to describe something when the word ‘fewer’ would have been the correct word in both written and spoken American English in newspapers, magazines, television, and radio alike. For example:

· ‘There are less books being read than ever before.’

· ‘I wish I had less problems than I do.’

· ‘The hospital reported less instances of staph infection this year than last year.’

It has only gotten worse over the past 25 years and I can’t remember the last time I heard someone use the word ‘fewer’ properly! What have been your observations in this regard: have there been more of fewer instances of using the word ‘less’ improperly?

Say, I just used it properly! Wow! Can you help me fight back and make people aware of this gross misuse of the English language? Thanks.”

Right on, Mr. Beasley, which is not your real name. Keep on peeving. I have my own linguistic gaffes that get under my skin. I don’t like it when people tell me “No problem” instead of “You’re welcome,” for instance, after I thank them for something. I don’t like it when the sportscaster, recapping a game, says, “He would go on to hit two home runs.” Why the conditional tense? He DID go on to hit two home runs, right? Isn’t that “would” just a pompous affectation? Well whether it is or not, I just hate it. Now it’s creeping into financial reporting. “The market would lose 350 points by 4 PM.” It would? Did it? Of course it did! The whole market is nuts!

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