Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wednesday Grammar Gripe

Excuse me for a moment while I get up on my soapbox.

Ok, people, seriously. I know that I'm a grammar nerd. I accept the fact that most people are not going to hold themselves to the high grammatical standard to which I hold myself. I understand that how we speak in casual conversation is different than how we might write a formal paper, for example.

That being said, I urge English and Language Arts teachers across America to stress the difference between LESS and FEWER. Again, casual conversation is one thing. But I have seen a plethora of misuse of these words in advertising and corporate settings lately.

Before I go into the examples, let's have a little grammar review. We use less to describe uncountable quantities, or the degree of something. The item described is usually singular. We use fewer to describe things that can be counted, and they're usually plural. So for example, we'd say less money, but fewer dollars; fewer hours but less time. Got it?

Ok, so it started at my bank in NY, Washington Mutual. They had a new advertising campaign (nicknamed the "whoo hoo" campaign) and a bunch of flashy new posters all over the walls. One said something to the effect of, "More benefits. Less hassles." Every time I went in, I would stare at that poster and get annoyed. I almost filled out a feedback form about it. Eventually, they moved on in the campaign and removed those posters. I wondered, though, how such a huge error could have made it that far?

Then there's the cable broadcast network TNT. In their promos for the movies they air, their new tagline is "More movie. Less commercials." See the problem? Fewer commercials. Fewer. Makes me not want to watch TNT. Who is writing these things--and who's letting them air?!?

Finally, last night I saw a print advertisement with not one but TWO incorrect uses! The ad is in the Good Housekeeping insert, Your Good House, and is for Culligan water filtration systems. Under the first picture, it states (bold mine): "SAVE ENERGY by using filtration systems that dramatically extend the life of your appliances, conserve water and allow for less detergents." Then, under the next picture, the caption reads: "USE LESS CHEMICALS AND CUT CLEANING TIME by installing a high-efficiency water softener..." Ugh.

Please, I'm begging all those in the advertising and all other media industries: use correct grammar! This is not so -called high-education complicated stuff, like using "whom" or not ending a sentence with a preposition. I get that those can sometimes just sound too stuffy and wordy in the "quick and dirty" world of media. But less and fewer are not interchangeable, and saying "fewer commercials" takes up one more syllable than "less" and does not make it sound stuffy, just makes it seems like the company actually knows English.

I'll step down from my soapbox now. Have a good day.

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  2. Oops! Welcome to my life! TNT and TBS both have that slogan. I wrote to TBS to tell them it offended me. I also wrote to Mott's about their Light Apple Juice, because it has "less calories" then regular. If Yoplait can say "less fat and fewer calories" and still sell their product, so can you.

  3. Yes! The TNT ad drove me nuts... I refered to it in a post I did about the abuse of "less" and "fewer." More and more product packaging is appearing with the word "less" where "fewer" should be. I miss the days when proof readers and copy editors knew the difference.