Less or fewer?

Years ago, my friend Jessica told me how less and fewer are often, and incorrectly, used interchangeably. Whether I thank her or curse her for his enlightenment depends on the day. I value knowledge, but people make this mistake so often that once you know the rule governing their use, the incorrect usage will drive you to distraction. It seems to happen all over the web, where anyone with Internet access can style themselves a writer.

Just this morning, I was reading Michael Lavorgna’s article, “The Ayre QX-5 Twenty: The Digital Hub” on Stereophile. The article opens with this sentence:

Let’s say you want less boxes in your hi-fi but you don’t want to give up the stuff you need and the stuff you like.

Less boxes? No, it’s fewer boxes. I’m guessing they don’t have an editor over there.

The rule is straightforward. If you can count the objects in question, it’s fewer. If not, it’s less. You can certainly count the number of components in your hi-fi so it’s fewer boxes.

With that in mind, it’s fewer boxes, less sand, fewer people, less water, and fewer troubles, for example.

While it is less sand and less water, it would be fewer grains of sand and fewer litres of water. You can’t count sand or water, but you can count units of sand and water, therefore less becomes fewer when you attach units.

So remember, if you can count the objects in question, it’s fewer. If not, it’s less.

Make history or be history?

My eyes brushed over a headline in Niagara This Week that caused me to do a double-take. The headline is, “Minimum wage hike ‘historical’: Labour Minister.” Damn right ‘historical’ ought to be in quotes, but not for the reason the Labour Minister may think.

For context, here’s the entirety of what the Minister, Yasir Naqvi, said, according to the article:

It’s a very exciting day for Ontario today. Today was, I would argue, an historical announcement, in terms of, one, setting a fair minimum wage in our province and, two, ensuring minimum wage from now on keeps pace with the rate of inflation.

The problem is Mr. Naqvi is confusing historical (of or concerning history or past events) with historic (famous or important in history, or potentially so). And let’s not get into his making the ‘h’ in ‘historic’ silent.

It makes we wonder what responsibility the reporting organization has for correcting a speaker’s error. Here it’s simple to divine the speaker’s meaning, though he looks silly for the error. By leaving it, presumably as spoken, the reader is left wondering if the paper realized there was an error.

Science and intuition

Jen wrote “The more feminists distrust science, the more women look like fools” in response to Jill’s “Science dudes declare porn good, support claim with Danish graphs, flawed reasoning.”

The reason I’m bring this all up is I read in the comments to the latter post what is certainly the most ridiculous thing I’ve read in some time:

Alas, this is why I prefer to hold up women’s intuition, which is actually a rational scientific tool of reasoning, over dude science any day.

yttik

To yttik I say: that word science … I do not think it means what you think it means.