Sunday, October 07, 2007

Picture of the Day: More Bad, Bad Grammar

Another example above of bad, bad grammar that you see everywhere. For an explanation of why this is wrong, go here.

I think most Wal-Mart stores actually have correct grammar for their express lane signs ("Everyday Correct Grammar"), unlike Target, which has this one wrong and has bad, bad grammar in its stores.

13 Comments:

At 10/07/2007 10:24 AM, Blogger Marcin said...

Every single supermarket in the UK with an express aisle makes this mistake. It pains me.

 
At 10/07/2007 11:12 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

You have to be careful with this complaint about grammar because it’s a mark of a more highly educated writer.

As a former college writing tutor who also has an undergraduate writing degree, I’ve found many, many people make this mistake about countable and non-countable nouns.

I saw an example on this blog of “least number of employees” instead of “fewest number of employees.” I’ve found that people tend to get ticked off when you correct such esoteric nuances of grammar.

 
At 10/07/2007 12:54 PM, Blogger Jesse said...

Of all people, English speakers ought to know that languages and their grammatical rules evolve. This is just another example of archaic grammatical rules that have not caught up with colloquial reality. The meaning of these signs is clear, and hence there is nothing "wrong" with them. "Grammatically incorrect" maybe, but not for long...

 
At 10/07/2007 1:09 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

"Least number" vs. "Fewest number" is an interesting case, it seems to go both ways, even in the same article, see this NY Times article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/14/
us/14lenchner.html

Doing a Google News search, there are 108 examples of "fewest number" and 89 of "least number."

Least and fewest are both listed as antonyms of "greatest." So perhaps if "greatest number" is correct then, either "least number" or "fewest number" would be correct?

And notice that we use the term "Ordianry Least Squares" and not "Ordinary Fewest Squares"?

 
At 10/07/2007 2:40 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

A lot of the grammatical rules are dying out. I was taught that if you can count them, it's fewest (fewest in number and least in amount). For example, fewest employees and less or least employment (since it's unknown how many employees are captured in the term "employment)."

You're right, though, this rule is splitting hairs and can go both ways because of current usage. Language evolves; what was not acceptable in the past is widely acceptable today. When was the last time you saw the singular term "datum" for "data" outside of a scholastic journal?

 
At 10/07/2007 2:49 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Actually the term we were discussing should simply be “fewest employees.” “Least number of employees” is a superfluous term that adds nothing to the description for the reader. But, I’m getting real picky here.

 
At 10/07/2007 9:22 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

1. After all, corporations don't exist to create the maximum number of jobs, they exist to serve consumers and shareholders by producing output with the least number of employees.

I stand by the grammar of my original sentence above, where I was trying to match the two phrases: "the maximum number of....." with "the least number of......"

I suppose I could have said "the minimum number of..." instead of "the least number of..."

2. All good writers correctly use data as a plural noun, whether it's in an academic journal or elsewhere. Checking the NY Times, I found 276 examples of the phrase "the data show" and 494 cases of the phrase "these data," both showing proper use of data as a plural noun.

 
At 10/08/2007 6:25 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

1) Along the same line of your example, 10 items or more is parallel in structure to 10 items or less and the check-out sign is grammatically correct. I’ll stand by my earlier remark that this is a Higher Order Concern (HOC) in writing and not a Lower Order Concern (LOC) like the it’s and its of your earlier post.

2) You're right about the verb-noun agreement usage in good writing, but not all data are plural sets. A lot of quantifiers are singular points (on mechanical drawings and SPC charts), and the singular "datum" on mechanical prints and die gages has all but disappeared in the last 10 years. Accordingly, our procedures should say to measure from the datum and not from the data point.

 
At 10/08/2007 8:09 AM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

From the NY Times:

1. "...least number of traffic deaths..."

2. ".... least number of votes..."

3. "..... least number of film releases..."

4. ".... least number of contingencies...

5. ".... least number of hours..."

6. ".... least number of penalties..."

7. "....least number of shares...."

8. "....least number of cigarettes..."

9. "... least number of fibers..."

10. "...least number of heat days..."

11. ".... least number of rules..."

12. ".... least number of bungalows..."

13. ".... least number of stairs..."

14. "....least number of phones..."

15. ".... least number of passes..."

16. "... least number of injuries...."

17. "... least number of physicians..."

18. ".... least number of opportunities...."

19. ".... least number of neighbors...."

20. ".... least number of people...."

Q.E.D.

I'll go with the NY Times on this one.

 
At 10/08/2007 9:08 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

From my Hacker Pocket Style Manual:

“The traditional rule holds that fewer should be used for things that can be counted (fewer than four players), while less should be used with mass terms for things of measurable extent (less paper; less than a gallon of paint). However, less is used in some constructions where fewer would occur if the traditional rule were being followed. Less than can be used before a plural noun that denotes a measure of time, amount, or distance: less than three weeks; less than $400; less than 50 miles."

It follows from the rule, then, that less or least can precede an amount such as "number" but not a noun such as employee. So, both you and the NY Times are correct. Accordingly, it can be least number OR simply shortened to fewest employees. This rule interpretation, however, makes the “less than 10 items” sign grammatically correct if we consider items as an amount: Does it not?

 
At 1/23/2008 12:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

W.r.t "Ordinary Least Squares"... "least" is appropriate since the "squares" part is a continues variable. You're minimizing a continuous variable, not a discrete variable, and hence the "squares" quantity is not countable.

 
At 10/31/2008 9:29 AM, Blogger MjMaddox said...

At least one chain has decided to go with the grammar sticklers and change their check-out signs:

http://americanenglishdoctor.com/wordpress/?p=104

 
At 5/27/2009 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would that not be "more poor, poor grammar"...??

 

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