Showing posts with label language. Show all posts
Showing posts with label language. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Less Or Fewer? Not Just A Linguistic Pet Peeve - A Logic Trap

Yesterday's Scientific American addressed in a blog one of my linguistic pet peeves: the increasingly common failure of speakers to distinguish between meaning and usage of "less" and "fewer."

It seems mighty simple to me. If you count it, the reduction in number is referred to as "fewer." If you measure it, the word is "less."

Scientific American explains the distinction as deriving from the mathematical concepts of "continuous," which applies to things you measure, or "discrete," applying to things you count. Here is the article.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Subleties Of Language

I suppose I have to make allowances for changes in meaning as time goes by. But I don't have to like it. Some usages are just lazy and imprecise language.

Some of my pet peeves:

1. Use of "less" in place of "fewer," as in "he had less choices;"

2. Use of "political" when what is really meant is "partisan;"

3. Use of "investment" to describe the purchase of stocks or bonds. This is one of those words that leads to bad policy. "Investment" is what companies do when they buy new equipment or otherwise improve their ability to make stuff or provide services. When people buy stocks or bonds on the market, their money doesn't increase the enterprise's capability one whit. What they are doing is "speculation."

4. Use of "it's" as the possessive. No! It's the contraction for "it is."

I have more such peeves.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Languages Other Than English Spoken At Home

The Washington Post has an interesting article and link to a revealing map showing, county by county, where in the US languages other than English are spoken in the home.

One interesting revelation is that Spanish is spoken at home in almost every county in the United States. Other prevalent languages are German and French.

Screen shot 2013-03-07 at 2.10.14 PM

In all of the hullabaloo over immigrants learning English, we often forget about some of our history. A century ago, there was a thriving trade in newspapers printed for immigrants in foreign languages. There were newspapers and magazines printed in German, Yiddish, Spanish, Polish, Czech, Chinese, Russian, Cherokee and others. Headstones in Bethlehem and Lebanon, Pennsylvania and in Wythe County Virginia and Frederick County, Maryland are carved in German. The language of instruction in elementary school in Fredericksburg, Texas was German until about 1920. My high school Spanish teacher was raised in a German-speaking community in Wisconsin and spoke only German until she started in first grade. When Colorado achieved statehood, the record of state legislative proceedings was published in both Spanish and English. Новое русское слово (Novoye Russkoye Slovo or "New Russian Word") has been published in New York City since about 1920. It is still published.

We are a far more polyglot nation than most of us think.