Ignoring the fact that it has taken me over a week to post a new update: I had a beautiful day today! A Fitzgeraldian romp on Governors Island complete with hats, pie, and the charleston. There was literally a parade (of hats) and literally no rain. Anywhere. We find ourselves in a quandary, then, because I’m still a little sad. Mainly, sad for the English language.
What. Is. This. Actually, that’s a silly question, isn’t it? This is one of a series of PSAs the MTA has released to let New Yorkers know about all the good work they’re doing these days. As if we hadn’t noticed. (Really, you can’t miss it… you can hardly cross a street in this town anymore!) Cute, colloquial turns of phrase – “That’s a lot of minutes.” – pepper the campaign, and I’m all about language experimentation, but the buck always has to stop somewhere, and today, it is here.
Here, grammar loses yet another battle to brevity. Nevermind that the grammatically correct version – “New switches. Fewer hitches.” – includes a charming internal rhyme, WE HAVEN’T A SYLLABLE TO SPARE! Apparently. I realize that just about every medium we communicate in these days requires a terse, catchy approach to the English language (because if we can’t watch a YouTube clip for longer than 5 minutes, how can we possible be expected to read complete sentences!), and I also realize that widely-criticized advertising slogans (Apple’s “think different, for one) can sometimes innovate and/or celebrate American diction, but sometimes it’s just not worth it.
I once interned for someone who would correct, or more accurately, incorrect email blasts I wrote to have grammatical errors. “This is too formal,” she would say, practically patting me on the head. Since when does informality equate to incorrectness? Can we trace it back to George W. Bush’s “nukeyaler” or does it have even deeper roots in America’s dark past? I was beginning to understand why her TV series hadn’t aired on PBS for several years.
Because I am a genius and master of the English language, this entire train of thought flashed through my mind in less than a second, and I traversed the empty subway car to take a photo of the ad to post here (because this blog is really the only thing I think of constantly). The only other passenger in the car was sitting directly underneath. Really, it would have been weird if she didn’t ask me what I was doing, so I explained: “less” is a word that refers to unquantifiable entities, “less water,” “less time,” “less pleasure,” while “fewer” implies countability, “fewer rain drops,” “fewer minutes,” “fewer… you get what I mean. The MTA, of all things, shouldn’t make simple mistakes like this.
“Wow,” she said, “that’s really irresponsible.”