When I was an undergraduate I spent my weekends fending off aggressive winos as I worked behind the counter in an edge-of-Oxford corner shop. A lot of my contemporaries would spend theirs flitting down to London to party with their pals. Ten years after graduation I started to earn enough money to live that kind of lifestyle, though I couldn’t afford the drugs.
Coming back from The Smoke this evening I sat on a near-empty train listening to two female undergraduates of the best university in the country talk about themselves and the torment that is their lives.
In a mixture of baby-speak, tortured grammar, Valley Girl and psycho-babble—
And I was like “I just feel this emptiness all the time“
—they swapped tales of the misery of “having parents that won’t set boundaries”, parents who, likelier than not, spent more than my gross income from my first job respectively each year having their daughters educated in the vain hope that they would learn the distinction between “amount” and “number” or the definition of “pretentiousness”. I choose this word because, at one wonderful point, the one wearing the “Stop the War” badge described the moment under psychological supervision when she had her life-defining “breakthrough” . (I, likelier than not, paid for the therapy that led to her recounted afflatus out of my taxes.) This breakthrough was the moment when she finally stopped “repressing her true emotions” and gave in to her first panic attack:
“I shed all these years of pretentiousness and truly felt at last”
It’ll be a long time before the pretentiousness is gone, love, but you keep working on it.
Once I got onto the platform I had to steer around two young white people with dreadlocks snogging each other in greeting. The detour was necessary because they were holding their right arms outstretched to avoid igniting each other’s rat’s-tails with their lit cigarettes. First-degree burns to the scalp would have been too good for the spoilt little inverted snobs and their “we wish we was black” spray-on poverty chic. Roll on top-up fees.
Difference between “amount” and “number?”
Apart from the obvious, is this one of those fine points of usage that all educated and literate people should know?
Have I been making a gross, vulgar mistake my entire life?
“There is a larger amount of milk in these bottles than those.”
“There is a larger number of milk bottles here than there.”
If you can count it in discrete packets then it has a number. If you can measure it on a continuous scale then it has an amount.
“We have fewer [number] milk bottles so there is less [amount] milk to drink.”
“We have less milk bottles” is wrong, but I’ve never noticed you write anything like that. I’m sure I would have drawn it to your attention if I had.
Don’t all native English speakers understand that difference intuitively? I didn’t realize that was a grammatical fine point; I just thought that was the way the words worked. How splendid that I can claim superiority for knowing this!
Unfortunately many native speakers don’t understand it.
Actually, “10 Steps or Less” sounds okay to my native ear. You’d say “On sale for $9.99 or even less at K-Mart,” wouldn’t you? You certainly wouldn’t say, “On sale for $9.99 or even fewer,” that sounds just weird. In both case, we’re talking countable items — steps, dollars. I’m having some doubts about this …
I hope my dad’s not reading this or it could get ugly.
An advertisement for “The Independent on Sunday” boasted of “an editorial team of no less than 83 wordsmiths” – to which a reader responded, “What a large amount! Let’s hope none of them have (sic) fewer education than your copywriter.”
Continuing education at the University of Pootergeek… thank you, D! I shall endeavor to make fewer errors of this sort in the future.