Less Stupidisms, fewer stupid

June 24th, 2006
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“…the Human Rights Council is still a case of the foxes guarding the chicken coop. There may be less foxes than there were in the commission…” – Hillel Neuer of UN Watch, cited in the June 21, 2006 National Post

We’re very sympathetic to the substance of Mr. Neuer’s concerns, namely that the UN’s latest “Human Rights Council” is yet another Orwellian obscenity, chock-a-block with dictators’ representatives and accused murderers, causing it to function as a kind of anti-human-rights council.

But Mr. Neuer’s English is lacking. Several readers have been urging us to highlight the widespread misuse of “less” in place of “fewer”. So here’s an example at long last. This Stupidism is so widespread in our times that many people eye you uneasily when you try to explain the correct usage, as if you’ve just scratched your privates in a restaurant.

To explain in brief: “less” almost always refers to an amount, while “fewer” should be used when describing numbers of things. So: “There’s less fuel in my vehicle than in yours because my tank holds fewer gallons.”

Bonus half-Stupidism: the original formulation of the metaphor at the beginning of the quotation above is “fox guarding the henhouse”.

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