Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 7, Number 2: February 2007

Bibs & Blather

Cites on a Plane

I was having a little fun. I already knew which issues had slightly light readership (“slightly” is relative; by 2003 standards, all of these issues were widely read). So I just took one “timeless” essay from each of several of those issues, dumped the portions of the most recent narcissistic extravagance that weren’t new [except that I missed one]—and added that 10% Autosummary because I remember having fun with Word Autosummary in the past.

It certainly wasn’t a “greatest hits” special. If I do anything like that, it will be thematic, involve updates, probably combine material from other published outlets, and probably appear in print-on-demand book form. This was just a goof. A 38-page goof (that I’m not saving in print form, by the way).

I figured a few dozen people would find the whole thing amusing, maybe a hundred at the outside. I probably spent an hour total (no copyfitting, no HTML, no table of contents, no index, no changes in the old-issue or old-contents pages, since the special thing did disappear on January 23).

If I had had any idea that 2,082 of you were going to download it, I might have done something a little more substantial. Or maybe not. Hope it helped you catch a nap on the flight.

Language Grumps: The Vanishing Fewer

This might be a probably-rare recurring bit of blather or it might be a oneshot: A grump about the usage of American English that I’m seeing in print, on the web and in conversation.

I can guess why this one happened. “More” works for both numbers and amounts—you have both “more money” and “more dollars.” So people figure, well, less is the antonym for more. Except that it isn’t. “Less dollars” is wrong, and I find it abrasive on the ear. “Less money” would be right, but that money amounts to fewer dollars.

Easy rule: If it’s countable, use “fewer.” If it’s a mass noun—something not countable—use “less.”

So: Less sand, fewer grains of sand. Less water, fewer gallons. Less traffic, fewer cars. Less enrollment, fewer students. Less time, fewer hours.

See? Isn’t that easy? If you can count it, and you subtract one or more, use “fewer.” If it’s not countable—you can’t count sand, only grains of sand—and you take away some (you can’t take away “one sand”), use “less.”

I don’t believe this is raised-pinky affectation. I believe it’s simply good everyday English.

And Speaking of Usage…

I believe I stated these four “house rules” for Cites & Insights years ago but I’ll repeat them:

Ø    I use “disc” for any optical medium (CD or DVD), “disk” for magnetic disks.

Ø    I regard “data” as a mass noun (taking the singular) except when used in statistical/scientific form (one datum and another datum)—but I mostly avoid it.

Ø    I deliberately use they, them, their in both singular and plural cases as a gender-neutral third-party pronoun, because English lacks a gender-neutral singular third party pronoun and I get tired of “his or her” and all that.

Ø    I prefer not to use the penultimate comma in a series unless it’s needed for clarity—but my punctuation is so haphazard (a known weakness) that it may appear random.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 7, Number 2, Whole Issue 86, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at OCLC.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services,

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