Did “fewer” get sucked into a black hole?

With the general election over, TV stations have returned to airing commercials for car dealerships and personal hygiene products. Most people welcome this after being subjected to non-stop political mud-slinging for weeks. It hasn’t been easy living in a “battleground” state.

I am glad for a respite from the political ads, but the reintroduction of the usual commercials brings one of my pet peeves back to the surface. Perhaps this stems from the fact that my mother was an English teacher. Maybe I am too sensitive about the misuse of the English language.

I have come to the conclusion this year that the word “fewer” was hijacked from the English language while I wasn’t looking. The use of mouthwash no longer results in fewer germs; it results in less germs. The regular use of toothpaste no longer results in fewer cavities; it results in less cavities. I cringe at these commercials.

Another sore point with me was highlighted last night when I took an online survey about a product that a company is considering offering. I wanted to run out of the room screaming when one of the questions asked me to rate the product as “extremely unique,” “very unique,” “somewhat unique,” “slightly unique,” or “not at all unique.” Something is either unique or not unique; there are not varying degrees of uniqueness.

And don’t get me started on the misuse of “lie” and “lay.” One lies down. One lays something down.

Before I come across as superior to others when it comes to speaking or writing, I admit that I make many mistakes. The words “effect” and “affect” always trip me up. If I don’t have a dictionary handy when I want to write either of those words, I simply substitute another word. Punctuation is my weakest link, and I strive to improve. It is my nature to see the speck in another person’s eye while I overlook the log in my own.

I just hope I never say, “most unique,” “less cavities,” or tell my dog to “lay down.” (Oh no. Does that period go before or after the quotation mark? I just looked up the rule and was reminded that in America we put the period inside the quotation marks, but the British place it outside the quotation marks when the period is not part of the quote.)

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