JS Tip 494: Ripped from the Headlines

From the Writing Workshops: Ripped from the Headlines  

Oh, well. 

We were going to talk about often-confused words: gambit, gamut, gantlet, andgauntlet. 

But events interceded. 

On Saturday, on ESPN’s College Game Day, Kirk Herbstreit said (essentially), "Medfield will score less than fifteen points.” 

On Wednesday, at a press conference, President Trump said, “I feel badly for Judge Kavenaugh.” 

No. 

No, no, no, no, no

Sports and politics aside, with due respect to everyone involved, the usage is wrong. 

"Medfield will score less than fifteen points.”

No. 

“Less” describes things that can’t be counted individually. “Less power.” “Less enthusiasm.” “Less talk.” None of these can be counted individually, so “less” is correct.   

But . . .

“Fewer” describes things that can be counted individually, like points in a football game: “Medfield will score fewer than fifteen points.’”

But the sign in the supermarket: “Ten items or less”? Forget about it. Lost cause.

“I feel badly for Judge Kavenaugh.”

No. 

“Badly” is an adverb. In this context, it modifies (tells us about) the feeling. The President is saying his ability to feel is diminished (as if he were wearing oven mitts).

So . . .

If the President wanted to say he empathized with the judge, that he was torn up inside for the judge, he could have—and should have—said, “I feelbadfor Judge Kavenaugh.”

Seriously. That’s the way language works. 

Next week, we’ll talk about gambit, gamut, gantlet, and gauntlet. We promise. 

This is fun. 

Kurt Weiland