The misuse of “less” versus “fewer” – my biggest peeve

This week’s challenge from @Britmums blogprompt was the following:  My biggest pet peeve is…

There are so many different irritants I could write about here that it took me a few days to decide which to pursue.  I’m a fairly easy-going kind of person and tend to live and let live most of the time.  It occurred to me while I was pondering that nothing really irritates me that much, apart from Twitter unfollowing me from several people every day.  I learnt long ago that it’s fruitless getting annoyed with a computer system so I discarded that idea.  It was only whilst listening to the news that my idea occurred: my pet peeve is incorrect use of English, particularly by people who should know better, such as journalists.   I’ll be more specific.  What really leaves me standing open mouthed in amazement is when journalists don’t seem to know the difference between less and fewer.

You may remember a book by Lynne Truss that was popular a few years ago: Eats Shoots and Leaves.  Her book is more concerned with punctuation but I read an article along similar lines in a newspaper.  Picture the scene, woman listening to radio.  Journalist says “less people…” woman whispers “fewer”.  Journalist continues “less children…” woman says audibly “fewer”.  Journalist says “less copies of…” woman screams at radio “Fewer!  Fewer!”   This is me sometimes.  I know they can’t hear me and it makes not one scrap of difference apart from raising my blood pressure, but it just sounds so wrong to my ears and, as I’ve said, journalists should know better.

People say that language evolves and that’s true.  If someone from Chaucer’s time came to live in the 21st century UK, we would not understand one another.  But while I support the natural evolution of English, I don’t support its detriment.  I think there is great danger of misunderstanding if ideas can’t be accurately conveyed because we have to ask ourselves constantly, does this person mean this or this?  I feel the same way about misplaced apostrophes, but that is probably a whole other post!

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5 Responses to The misuse of “less” versus “fewer” – my biggest peeve

  1. Solnushka says:

    I actually wrote to Asda complaining once. They were running a campaign. ‘Together we can use less bags!’ Fingernails on a chalkboard. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I mean, a national campaign for crying out loud. Anyway, all power to your inner green biro!

    • Ooh, well done! What reply did you get? I phoned a children’s nursery once about an advert they had outside a school (can’t remember exact wording now, it was a few years ago) but they didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. These people were teaching the next generation!

  2. Fee Hills says:

    It’s so annoying, isn’t it? For me though, it’s people saying ‘haitch’ instead of ‘aitch’. Don’t get me started…

  3. mammasaver says:

    That gets on my wick too!

    For me, it’s ‘seen’ instead of ‘saw’ and ‘done’ instead of ‘did.’

    It’s like a poke in the ear with a sharp stick every time I hear it!