Where the dangers presented by those with a little learning are allayed
Less and Fewer
You've all heard it said – usually by some smarmy arse who's convinced that he's being cleverer than the person he's talking to – that you should only use "fewer" when referring to countables, and "less" when the object of your innocent comparative is not countable.
OK, here's the straight gen:
They're synonyms. You know when each should be used (e.g. you know that "fewer" only really plays nicely with integers and "whole" things); you don't need some stupid, incorrect "rule" to muddy the waters.
This ridiculous "rule" was invented, as I recall it (but don't take the date as Gospel; I really have forgotten more about the English language than most people ever learn, and things like names and dates are the first things to go), in the last third of the 18th century, by one of the many
Of course, their personal preferences were published in one or more of the texts of the time, which were then used by schools, where teachers were over the moon to have something to make them sound clever in class, and the poor kids had to memorise that kind of garbage by rote, without actually learning anything.
But, as with all such "rules", which have nothing to do with any dialect or idiom of the language, they are so far from reality that they have to be amended and added to, and have endless codicils stiched on, in order to actually fit into the language.
E.g. did you know that the exceptions to this "rule" – i.e. where it does not apply – include when the clause includes such things as money, time, distance, and, um... yeah, don't laugh... numbers!
That's right, this moronic "rule", that distinguishes between things that are countable and things that are not countable, does not work for numbers!
So, the next time you hear someone shooting this "rule" down his nose at some poor victim, just ask him two simple questions:
1. Are you saying that twelve is not less than twenty?
As always, if your editor tells you that this is a rule that has to be obeyed in text that he is paying you for: don't argue; he's got enough to do, and doesn't need to waste time debating done deals.
Otherwise, treat it, and those who espouse it, with the contempt they merit, and ignore them completely.
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