Saturday, March 20, 2010

Numbers and amounts

This morning, I was listening to the news on Radio Scotland, and in particular an item about potholes. Reporting from the side of a pothole in Perthshire, the journalist was talking about the amount of potholes. This is a very relevant topic, following the hardest winter since 1962/63, with snow on the ground for nearly 3 months in some parts of the Highlands. I remarked to a friend that talking about amounts of potholes is grammatically incorrect. You talk about numbers of potholes. Because you can count them. Of course, I would not expect anyone to go on a drive of all the roads in Highland Scotland and tot up the number of time their suspension gets wrecked. However, what could be a relevant statistic is the amount of tar required to fill in all those potholes. Or the number of men needed to put in all that tar.

You can talk about one tonne of tar needed to repair a stretch of road. That's an amount, you can weigh it or measure it; you describe it with a unit (e.g. of length, weight etc). You can't talk about one tar, unless you are watching a performance of Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance.

You can talk about one lorry, needed to carry all that tar, because you can count the number of vehicles. Talking about an amount of lorries does not make sense.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Check Out Deb's New Blog!

I'd like to invite you to visit a new blog by a former AOL Journaler. Thankfully she and I have stayed in touch since AOL Journals went under. She had a word usage journal for some time, but has only now decided to jump back into blog waters -- on Wordpress, not Blogger, but we won't hold that against her. ; )

Her name is Deb, and her blog is Everyday Language, Every Day. Please drop by to visit and let her know what you think. I am so jealous of the subject she chose for her first post. I wish I'd thought of it first!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Few Shout-Outs

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.

James D. Nicoll

This quote opens one of my favorite web sites, Word Connections, run by John Dierdorf. I first made Dierdorf's acquaintance by using one of his other sites, You Can't Say That! Both are chock full of interesting etymological treasures, and Dierdorf himself is humorous in his presentations. If you write historical fiction (or even if you don't) "You Can't Say That!" is a must-have as far as reference sources go, in my opinion. I like to read both sites just for fun, but I'm funny like that.

Another favored site, and one you may be familiar with, is The Word Detective, "Words and Language in a Humorous Vein Since 1996". I believe I may have run across this guy from a recommendation of another AOL Journaler. I do know that it has been in my bookmarked sites for several years. The Word Detective is newspaper columnist and author Evan Morris, and, again, I like reading his web site just for the fun of it.

One other site that I enjoy reading is It has a little bit of everything for "learners and teachers of English", including a very interesting History of the English Language.

I hope you get the chance to check these out and make use of them.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Last Wednesday, I came across a public notice in an outlying district of the Isle of Lewis, where I reside. There was one comma missing in the first paragraph of the message from the Grazings Clerk, which threatened to render it unintelligible.

I read the first paragraph as:


which should of course contain a comma after TO.

A better phrase would have run: 
"Any shareholder who wishes to put their sheep into the Aird Park can do so from now ... "

And yes, "there" should of course have been spelled "their", but that did not prompt me to take the photograph.