I cannot, can’t, will not, won’t go to a coffee chain whose napkins proclaim that their efforts will leave the world with “less napkins.” What, in the name of all that is holy, did David Foster Wallace not explain to us in his review of Bryan Garner’s A Dictionary of Modern American Usage but that structural linguistics, as descriptive yet still highly judgmental are a farce. Written and standard English need flexible but firm prescriptive rules. The descriptive tack is a ruse, allowing in errors in the name of colloquial usage, yet ignoring other, legitimate alternate usages based in judgment and priorities that hide nothing less than a political agenda.
In other words, just because some people say it incorrectly doesn’t make it correct. Or cute. Think differently.
Please, advertising companies, hire professional editors. You can’t say “less napkins” just because enough people don’t know the rule. It’s “fewer napkins.” You can count napkins. Therefore you can know just how many fewer napkins there are. Just because supermarkets get away with the egregious Ten Items or Less (sic) rather than opting for the correct Ten Items of Fewer; and just because advertising companies get away with the chalkboard-forkdragging of “Where Are You At?” rather than the simpler, more elegant, and freaking correct “Where Are You?” does not mean that you can claim frequent American usage and refuse to proofread your freaking napkins. Written language is standard as used by educated writers. And it’s fewer napkins. You can’t count sugar. So there you get to use “less sugar.” You can count cars. Fewer cars. You can’t count traffic. Less traffic. Fewer napkins, less sugar, fewer cars, less traffic. Less pollution, for that matter. And apparently, far, far fewer writers who actually know the language.
Sign of the apocalypse.
Please keep posting stuff like this. I find your rants very helpful. As you’ve probably noticed, grammar/punctuation isn’t my strong suit. I solemnly swear to get an editor when the day comes that someone wants my book.
If they would hire more editors and proofreaders, all those English majors would have jobs and may, just may, save the economy with their purchasing power.
Side note: I hate the “Where are you at?” commercials; could we sound any more uneducated?
Honestly, I think they should hire *you*!
Gun to my head, if I had to pick my favorite essay from Consider the Lobster, it would be the one on _A Dictionary of Modern Usage_. I totally geek out on grammar. Of course, now I’m terrified of writing anything out loud for fear that DFW is judging me unkindly from the beyond.
Related: how smart and funny do you have to be in order to write something that makes people want to go buy and read _A Dictionary of Modern Usage_?
Also related: you’re a fun read. Thanks for writing.
I totally agree on favorite essay. Sixty-two pages on grammar, including references to Saussure and Hericlitean flux, with casual smacking aside of those who misread Saussure for their own purposes—genius, hilarious, and total Grammar Geek Heaven. I love that essay. Read it twice in a week. Makes me feel whole.
Agree, too, that I am hobbled by potential criticism that he may or not have wasted an eyelash bat on, if we were lucky enough to have him. I wrote easily enough when he was on the planet. Now nothing I even think is good enough because the world deserves better. Him, you know.
It was lovely to meet your blog, and I look forward to more nuggets of proverbial dirt. ;-)