July 9, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips: among/amongst. firmer/more firm

Posted in among/amongst, firmer/more firm at 9:28 pm by dlseltzer

Alan found a whopper of an error in a recent issue of the Post-Gazette. Can you spot it?

“Booming business in college exam prep services
Anxious parents and intense competition for college admissions have created fertile ground for making money
Sunday, June 29, 2008
By Ann Belser, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

He isn’t taking the course so he can go to an Ivy League college; instead, he has his sites set on Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Fla., because he wants to be a commercial pilot. It’s the top school in his field, and he is shooting for it.”

Yikes!

Alan also spotted something in one of the quotes I used a couple of weeks ago:

re: Tip 3: Don’t do that anymore

In one of my email lists, I just received a message, including the following sentences:

“Anymore, I almost refuse to use any application without a scripting
dictionary. Life’s too short to let a developer tell me how I’m going to use
their application.”

Yes, my geekiness is well established. But as to starting a sentence with “anymore,” please don’t do that anymore.

Should be: Life’s too short to let a developer tell me how I’m going to use their his or her application

Tip 1: Among or amongst

I’ve noticed, lately, an increasing use of the word “amongst” in your writing. I have absolutely no idea why this is happening, but…CUT IT OUT! The correct word is “among.” There will never ever be any context in which “amongst” is appropriate. The same goes for “amidst” but I haven’t seen that in your writing (just figured I’d mention it while I was on my rant). Let the “st” go; it gets enough press as it is.

Looking over the Language Tips blog, I noticed a tip from April 3, that I must have written when I was out of my mind or, better yet, maybe it was an April Fool’s joke – yeah, that’s the ticket – an April Fool’s joke, This is what I wrote:

Tip 2: Amongst, amidst, betwixt, whilst

These are all perfectly good words; however, they are best used in writing other than proposals, reports, and manuscripts. They are a bit dated and may sound poetic to our ears (and they do to mine), but since our goal is simplicity and clarity, it’s best to stick with among, amid, between, and while.

While what I wrote is not completely wrong and the words are poetic, they are not perfectly good, and I should have been more firm in my denouncement of their use.

Tip 2: More firm or firmer

Tip 2 derives from Tip 1, the last line of which refers to a “more firm” denunciation. Should I have used “firmer”? Well, traditional grammar dictates that yes, I should have used “firmer.” These are the traditional rules:

When making an adjective comparative (more/er) or superlative (most/est), you determine the correct usage by the number of syllables in the adjective.

Adjectives of one syllable use “er” or “est.”

I should have been firmer…

He is the tallest man I’ve ever seen.

Adjectives of three or more syllables use “more” or most.”

I’ve never met a more intriguing man.

That is the most beautiful flower that I have ever seen.

Adjectives of two syllables can go both ways – user’s choice.

That was the most boring talk I ever heard.

I am hungrier than a bear waking from hibernation.

These rules are dumb. My rule, and I urge you to adopt it, is to trust your ear. Use the form that sounds best to you.

I think “more firm” and “firmer” both sound fine but “the most tall man” does not.

I agree with the concept of the adjectives of three syllables or more, but again, it is the sound that convinces me. “Intriguinger” doesn’t sound right, and neither does “beautifulest.”

The usage with two syllable adjectives is indeed a case of user’s choice but the choice must be based on the sound. “Boringer” sounds wrong; however, “more hungry” works.

Forget the rules; trust the ear.

1 Comment »

  1. dlseltzer said,

    Pamela writes:

    here’s how i interpret it, let’s use crazy as our example.

    1. i would need to be crazier to take that job.
    2. i would need to be more crazy to take that job.

    in 2, the implication (to me) is that i am already crazy but i would need to become even more crazy to take the job. in 1, the implication is that i need some level of craziness to take the job but not necessarily that i am currently crazy at all. in 2 i have implied that i am already crazy, just not crazy enough for the job.

    i suspect that most people would not interpret any difference between the two, but to me the implication from “more” crazy is that i am already crazy. this makes “more” an intensity modifier that requires some base level of the condition to modify. the “more” is relative to the base level of the condition (implying that the condition is present). crazier is a general modifier that does not imply any base level of the condition (in this case, craziness).

    i know it is splitting hairs for most people,


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