Thursday, April 17, 2008

This is about some disagreement

Showing again how reasonable people can disagree when it comes to language shibboleths, I offer up recent work by two esteemed colleagues, Craig Lancaster and John McIntyre.

From Lancaster:

Here are two passages from one Associated Press story, each with the offending term highlighted.

The first:

The city of some 6 million people has been carved up along sectarian lines, a patchwork of neighborhoods surrounded by 10-foot-high concrete walls and dotted with checkpoints.

The second:

But street battles continued Wednesday in Sadr City, a sprawling district of some 2.5 million people.

Now, lean in closely for this next part. Are you listening?


“Some,” as an estimator, is a nasty affectation that has taken root where “about” used to reside happily.

From McIntyre:
Things not worth bothering about:

About/some. Some editors heartily dislike some in the sense of approximately. Not worth staying up nights fretting over.
I come down with McIntyre on this one. Life's too short. But, of course, I have my own -- we all do.

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At 4/17/08, 10:02 AM, Blogger Craig Lancaster said...

Given what John called my "violent exception" to the word, an underlying point seems to have been missed in my post.

It wasn't simply a matter of "some" vs. "about." It was about a word being used unnecessarily. As I noted in the item, I would have struck "about," too. Tightening up prose *is* part of the job, yes?

And I stick to my contention about "some" used in conjunction with specific numbers: silly, silly, silly.

At 4/17/08, 12:53 PM, Blogger Doug said...

Good point about the "some" with specific numbers -- and I probably should have provided that wider context because I agree with you there (just like saying "about 50 to 75" -- well, duh, the range says "about" implicitly).

I just thought it useful to show to the wider world that we have these good-natured debates and trusted folks would follow the links for the full-course meal.

At 4/18/08, 7:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe they printed that! I wouldn't dream of using the term 'some'in that sense. Just shows what you can get away with nowadays - the informality of blogging is breaking down barriers. Maybe that's a good thing. I know the writing I actually enjoy the most is blogging!

PS The Top Technoratis were amazingly boring! What's all the fuss about them? Yours is ok!

At 4/19/08, 9:32 PM, Blogger Doug said...

Yeah, a lot of barriers are coming down, not so much because of blogging but because the Internet in general is quickly spreading various changes in usage. Good or bad, take your pick -- it is what it is. It certainly makes it critical for editors and others who use language to keep up.

Usage is always a squishy thing; at what point do enough people "misuse" a use that it becomes standardized? That's what I mean about the digital age speeding things up. Before, language changed, but it did so at a relatively glacial pace.

Among the other things that are changing, have changed or are just plain shibboleths:

Another/an additional
Over/more than
None almost always as a singular
More important/more importantly
"Too" preceded by or bracketed with commas.

And certainly there is agitation to do away with:
The who/whom distinction
The that/which distinction
The subjunctive
The lay/lie distinction

I don't say I agree with all those, but whether we like it or not, the underlying movement is there and some are likely to take hold in the next decade or so.

I'm sure there are more people might like to point out. Have at it in the comments ...


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