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Pedants' corner

I got one less problem without you

26 replies

bachsingingmum · 11/07/2014 13:34

My DD (16) told me this morning that this song "makes me want to kill myself". For a moment I was distressed about such over the top expression of emotion about a song, then realised it was the misuse of the word "less" that was upsetting her so much and making her reach for the off switch. So proud....

OP posts:
Nanny0gg · 16/07/2014 23:19

Well done that DD!

DadDadDad · 16/07/2014 23:37

Blimey, don't let her near 'I can't get no satisfaction', the double negative will make her head explode! Has no one taught her that poets and songwriters break the rules for all kinds of reasons? How many punctuation and syntax rules does this beautiful poem break ?

DadDadDad · 16/07/2014 23:42

Oh, and it turns out that banning less with countable nouns is a rule that we don't really need, eg

BeyoncesCat · 16/07/2014 23:44

Ok. I don't understand what's wrong with it Blushplease tell meSmile

DadDadDad · 16/07/2014 23:49

Apparently, since about the eighteenth century it's been wrong to use 'less' with countable items, such as problems, where you should use 'fewer'. Anyway, loads of us pedants were told it was a rule by a well-meaning teacher at school and it takes time to rid oneself of such superstitions. //grin

DadDadDad · 16/07/2014 23:51

Sorry, that's not a link, I was trying to Grin

BeyoncesCat · 16/07/2014 23:52

Oh ok thanks!

JessieMcJessie · 03/08/2014 07:00

DadDadDad I have been enjoying a lively catch up on a few months' worth of pedants' corner posts and you are on every bloody one preaching tolerance and live-and-let-live. Please stop this. We understand the "language evolves" school of thought but this is our space to discuss why that distresses us. Do you also go on the relationships board and tell people to kiss and make up, or on mental health to tell people to get a grip?

With the greatest of respect, Pedants'Corner is for pedants, not pedant-bashers. Please leave us alone.


TheSkiingGardener · 03/08/2014 07:03

Well said Jessie!

CatWithKittens · 03/08/2014 11:54

I agree with Jessie and The Skiing Gardener. "Language evolves" is used far too often as an excuse for, if not a defence of, idleness, poor teaching and lack of clear thinking. We may have to put up with it to some exent in the real world - here we should be free from those who succumb to, or worse still actually promote, the current relativist free-for-all.

badtime · 03/08/2014 12:10

I don't know if perhaps DadDadDad thinks that we have never heard of such concepts before, and that he is blowing our minds with his wisdom; once enlightened we will go forth into the world with our new-found knowledge and spread linguistic peace and joy wherever we go.

I have never before used the word 'mansplaining' in anger - I think it is sexist and often employed to shut down debate - but that is what I feel is happening here. We shouldn't worry our pretty little heads any more. DadDadDad is here to tell us what to think.

badtime · 03/08/2014 12:36

Oh, and the above also applies if 'DadDadDad' is actually a woman with a misleading name and a sense of her own superiority.

DadDadDad · 04/08/2014 13:03

No, I'm not going away.

I'm a pedant too and I like to have lively discussion about whether some so-called rules are actually rules, or just shibboleths and the like that some of us learnt at school. I'm not trying to bash any pedants, just throwing in ideas where I haven't seen them mentioned.

Can you give me any example where I've used the "language evolves" line, because I don't remember doing so.

Yes, I'm a man. BeyoncesCat asked me to explain about the "less / fewer" rule, so I did, and she thanked me. Didn't think I was mansplaining, so sorry if it came across that way.

Nanny0gg · 04/08/2014 23:57

Just curious as to why the website you quoted in the less/fewer argument should be treated as the Authority in this case?

DadDadDad · 05/08/2014 01:42

There is no Authority; that's what I think makes pedantry hard (and interesting) sometimes, as we weigh the evidence of how native speakers use the language, and try to identify what good writers do.

That website was just a case of someone who had spent some time thinking about it and set out some reasoning. It would be great to have some debate here about what is right or wrong in what they had to say.

I'm not trying to tell people here that they are getting it wrong (I get the feeling that I wouldn't last long here if I did try to do that!). I just want to share the data that is out there, so I can have informed debate.

prism · 05/08/2014 07:07

Could you give us an example of something you are pedantic about, DadDadDad?

DrankSangriaInThePark · 05/08/2014 13:15

Isn't that link to a blog?

I tend not to refer to blogs for my use of English rules.

I have no doubt that "less" will become acceptable in place of "fewer" in due course. None of my students will be aware of it while I live and breathe though...

I am both a pedant and a pedant basher. (Though I'm not a past tense verb, a Spanish drink, or a green space)

DadDadDad · 05/08/2014 22:24

prism - there are lots of rules I'm picky about observing in my own use of language, I just try not to get too upset when others miss them, unless they are specifically asking me to proofread their work. (See, I just checked a dictionary to make sure proofread is written without as a hyphen as I'd hate to misspell it). But pedantry is wider than language - random example: if my children ask me if a 50p piece is a heptagon, I'd point out that actually no, that if you ignore the surface markings, it's a close approximation to a heptagonal prism.

(I didn't choose that example because of your name; it was only when I typed it that I realised the coincidence!).

DadDadDad · 05/08/2014 22:36

DrankSangria - can I say that your comments make you come across as not just pedantic but close-minded.

You will discuss grammar with strangers on the internet, but if I point you to a blog written by a stranger on the internet, you point-blank refuse to read it, even if it might contain some evidence or data that might inform you? Or at least challenge you to say why you take the position you do? I'm not suggesting you accept or believe everything it might say.

And why are you happy for your students not to be aware of the history of less + countable? Isn't it fascinating that Alfred the Great might have used less in that way? That it's not a question of language sliding into the abysmal decay of everybody using less + countable, but in fact something that came into fashion, maybe in the 18th century when someone proposed it as a rule, and is now going out of fashion? If my children were educated about that and knew that they could appear classy by using fewer with countables, then I would be truly impressed with their teacher.

But I have genuinely have a more basic question: if blogs aren't your source of English rules (fair enough), then what is your source?

prism · 05/08/2014 23:04

That's very interesting but personally I think that getting cross is what being a pedant is all about, especially here in Pedants' Corner. Anyone can read up on English usage, but it takes a pedant to get into an incandescent rage with people who pay no attention to their grammar or spelling. To be a real pedant, there have to be some examples of bad English that make you pretty much homicidal, or at least spitting feathers.


DadDadDad · 05/08/2014 23:38

The OED defines "pedant" as
A person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules or with displaying academic learning

So maybe I should fly into an incandescent rage with you for being one of those people who think they can define a word to be whatever they want it to mean and say "getting cross is what being a pedant is all about". Read the dictionary!!!! Angry

Actually, I'm smiling, and I hope you realise I'm joking. Grin

prism · 06/08/2014 10:00

I'm getting my copy of the OED back next week (much excitement and considerably less space chez prism). When I have it I shall look up "joking".

badtime · 06/08/2014 14:12

DadDadDad, DrankSangria is often the one arguing for tolerance in pedantry, and berating people for inappropriate application of rules. I often disagree with her. Somehow, though, she manages to do this without being patronising. You could learn from her.

You seem closed-minded in comparison - you seem very intolerant of people who have different attitudes to you.

As to blogs - anyone can write a blog, and there is no regulation. For someone with any sort of academic standards, blogs do not really constitute evidence (unless, of course, you are specifically considering/analysing/discussing blogs). How is it 'close-minded' to acknowledge that some sources are prima facie more reliable than others?

And what does the fact that someone speaking Old English (a different language from Modern English) might have used a particular word in a particular place got to do with the price of fish?

DadDadDad · 06/08/2014 21:23

Weird - further up this thread I was taken to task for preaching tolerance and now I'm accused of being close-minded. Smile

How is it 'close-minded' to acknowledge that some sources are prima facie more reliable than others? It's not - I think that kind of acknowledgement is fine, essential even. I was suggesting that (among other things) dismissing a blog out of hand without reading it just because it is a blog is close-minded.

Anyway, I'd be much happier not exchanging accusations, but having a friendly discussion about the language topic itself. So, badtime, I appreciate your last question. It raises a good point, that Alfred the Great is probably not the best data point for modern English speakers. That raises the interesting question of how far back we do allow ourselves to go when considering historic usage. For example, we admire Shakespeare's English, but wouldn't follow some of his spellings. Would you say there is a cutoff? Chaucer? I suppose that links back to my question to Sangria about what are the sources that are authoritative in establishing the rules?

badtime · 07/08/2014 10:30

You are intolerant of people who do not agree with your views. There is no contradiction.

Chaucer wrote in late Middle English, which was also very different from Modern English ('modern English' has a different meaning from 'Modern English', btw). Even with early Modern English users like Shakespeare, spelling was not standardised (think about how many different ways he spelled his own name!), so the spelling is not a reason to reject it. There are plenty of other reasons, the primary one being that it would not be an effective way of communicating as people would be unfamiliar with many of the words and references and grammatical structures (and also it takes too long to hold a conversation in blank verse)

As to authoritative sources, obviously in English there is no equivalent of the Acadmie franaise, so there is no overarching authority to say what is and is not acceptable English. This is one reason why English is such an adaptable language, but it is also problematic as effective communication depends on a certain degree of standardisation. The OED is often considered the authority on British English vocabulary, but there is no similarly regarded work on usage. However, I can say without fear of contradiction (by anyone but DadDadDad) that 'somebody's blog' is not in contention to be this authority. At best, a blog can point you towards properly researched and reviewed sources to support what it says. More usually, it just presents somebody's opinions, and I'm sure you know what opinions are like, and how seriously you should take them.

As it stands, English as a language is essentially governed by consensus. I think most people want to use 'correct' English, and I think most people 'know it when they see it'. There are, of course, people who actually study this, the evolution of languages. Their academic papers are certainly more authoritative than 'somebody's blog' (even if the blog is written by the same person).

BTW, I am not actually an old-fashioned pedant. I am a dialect speaker and a lot of the things that seem to annoy pedants are not incorrect in my dialect. Others are incorrect in my dialect, but are acceptable in others. My biggest bugbear is incorrect pedantry (e.g. people who think that 'John and me' should always be changed to 'John and I'). I think that for the most part, in an informal setting, scrupulously correct grammar or spelling is not essential. Sometimes there is an error which changes the meaning of what is written, but that is comparatively rare.

Nonetheless, I think it will be a sad day when nobody cares about the difference between there, their and they're, or gets annoyed that so many people seem to think that should of is correct.

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