April 14, 2005

That's one less problem for me

Just yesterday I was reading a post by Neal Whitman on less vs. fewer, wherein he detailed a situation where "fewer" is wrong even if you are someone that normally uses it. (I posted a comment, because hey, the less-vs-fewer issue is one that prescriptivists call me on all the time, as if they can't understand what I'm saying or something.)

Then this morning, I managed to hear an instance of exactly the issue in his blog entry. My coworker John was talking about the convenience of a certain setup, and said:

"There was one fewer person, peh, uh, people in the loop...."

He plugged in "fewer" according to the rule, stumbled because it sounded odd to say "one fewer person", tried to correct it to "people", that sounded weird too, but ended up going with it anyway. Just a few moments later, he uttered basically the same construction:

"...one fewer ^ person in the loop"

The caret indicates where he paused briefly, presumably re-running the same lexical choice debate, in the end settling on the other unsatisfactory choice.

Of course, I don't know that "one less person in the loop" would have felt any better to him, and it's hard to find such things out directly without running into "this is what the rule says" recalcitrance. But it sure sounds better to me.

"In our modern, first world country, there is no reason why we as a society can't afford to support old people retiring after a certain age. They've paid their dues, we've seen to that in the "credits" requirement. Living your last few years in restful peace and quiet, with a $700 check every month as a "Thank you" for having been a productive member of society all your life, should damn well just be a benefit of living in America, God's greatest gift to this brave new millennium." --Eva Sweeney

Posted by blahedo at 11:59am on 14 Apr 2005
I'd probably say "one person less", myself--not exactly grammatical, but at least sensible and less awkward. Posted by Ingeborg at 9:45pm on 14 Apr 2005
I would have probably said "one person fewer". But you probably knew that already. Posted by kelly at 7:48pm on 15 Apr 2005
"the number of people in the loop had shrunk by one" Posted by Greg at 7:13am on 22 Apr 2005
Are you seriously suggesting that you or anyone else would naturally utter the sentence "the number of people in the loop had shrunk by one"? That sort of stretches the imagination right there. But even if that were a possible utterance, it doesn't help with how you'd phrase that idea if you get as far as "there was..." and aren't sure how to finish the sentence. I guess you could always call it a train wreck and restart the sentence, but I feel like requiring such a strategy is needlessly prescriptive. Posted by blahedo at 12:00am on 24 Apr 2005
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