Friday, December 16, 2016

Not Less Grammar Errors

Public radio delivers a cachet of culture and higher education. So, I hear a bellwether when presentations lead away from my expectations for correct grammar. Last night, on KUT-FM, a show on the death penalty opened with the statement that Texas is executing "less people" than in the recent past. I would have said "fewer people." KUT-FM here in Austin is not alone in that. I hear it often, but read it less frequently.

Languages change. As strangers learn to live together civilized languages tend toward larger vocabularies and simplified grammars. We still have archaic plurals "children," "oxen," and (less common) "brethren" in our daily speech. Also, common plurals "fish" and "deer" are still with us.  (Fishes and deers refer to different kinds of the same thing: trout, sharks, and carp are among the fishes, though Luca Brasi simply sleeps with the fish.)  We still have "goose-geese," and "mouse-mice," and but not "moose-meese" or "house-hice." An old King James Version of the Bible might have "kine" as the plural of "cow" but you will not hear it even in Texas cattle country.

So, we will hear less references to "fewer." Personally, I prefer fewer degradations of common grammar. Grammar defines thought. Sloppy grammar allows inexact and incorrect mental formations. Weak thinking leads to bad actions. You cannot have a gallon of executions.  Opponents of the death penalty should remain focused on the fact that an execution is a discrete event that happens to an  individual.

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