Monday, October 26, 2009

Bees In The Bonnet

The other day we were talking about the traffic snarls in Bangalore. “Once the Metro is made, the road congestion will reduce,” someone said. Something seemed wrong in that sentence. The subordinate clause was okay, it was the principal clause that felt like a morsel of rice with a stone in it. Wouldn’t it be better to say, “…the congestion will decrease.”? On referring, I found that the two are more or less synonymous. But decrease means to cause something to become less or to become less. Whereas reduce means to cause something to become less . (There are several other differences as well but I refrain from teaching. ) After that I have noticed people using the two as and where they please and the stone gets my teeth each time.

Less appears to be a harmless little word, but it can increase my blood pressure. For one thing it is often used with countable nouns where fewer would be correct; as in there are less organizations that promote eco-friendly drives. My OED says that ‘less is now commonly and more increasingly used with plural nouns instead of fewer’ but it also adds ‘this is still thought to be incorrect English and careful speakers prefer fewer’. Call me outdated, but I writhe to see The Hindu being careless. (What’s more, even the computer doesn’t show it as an error.) But what gets my goat is the use of lesser. It is like saying worser or betterer. Less is already in the comparative degree. An –er isn’t required. Granted lesser is used to refer to something that is not as great as another. (Do go to that delightful book, the dictionary, for the pleasure of words)

Everywhere we see the use of the double comparatives or double superlatives such as she is more stronger or she is the most strongest. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrgh….. need I say more? Of course Shakespeare did write, “That was the most unkindest cut of all.” But then I will allow Bill anything.


AtomicGitten said...

I fear that as an English teacher you will always be assaulted by these bees. However, I hope you will extend your Billy benevolence to use lesser mortals as well. :D

Materialmom said...

Of course f course, especially since I am a lesser mortal myself.

Anush said...

"But decrease means to cause something to become less or to become less. Whereas reduce means to cause something to become less"

do please explain the difference.

whats the superlative for "less"?

And why the partiality towards the balding Englishman? Maybe Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlow and William Stanley also deserve a bit of that partiality as well eh? :)

ThalassicReverie said...

Grammar lesson after a long time :)

As much as I love the English language , I could not sit through a grammar class without groaning occasionally.

Hope you are doing great :)

Materialmom said...

Warning: this reply is going to be v long.

'Reduce' cannot be used to mean 'to become less'. So the metro will reduce traffic snarls, but snarls will not 'reduce', they will only 'decrease' or 'be reduced'. It would be easier if I were saying this and you were listening rather than me writing and you reading it.

The superlative of less is least: little, less, least just like much/many, more, most.

I'm sure you mention Bacon, Marlowe and W. Stanley referring to claims that they actually authored Shakespeare's works - does it really matter? Can the individual creator be important when the creation has a life of its own? Much as you may despair, I'll quote Yeats here:
"O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?"

I have not read WS and I've read only Bacon's essays. Marlow's Faustus is the most dramatic piece of lit I have read. If only M had lived longer


I'm doing great, thanks to my new pursuits.

I tolerated grammar as a student because I scored well without knowing the rules. The mysteries of structure were revealed to me only when I became a teacher. I'm still learning.

You seem busy. I miss your writing.

Anush said...

ah yes, least... i feel so stupid rite now :)

if get ur explanation rite - the number of snarls get reduced, but the snarls still have the same magnitude... is tat wat?

as for u saying and me listening - ha! like tat were ever possible :)

and is that Latin being used in bacon's essays? I already have a tough time with 21st century poets, so forget 17th century ones...

Materialmom said...


Poor boy, Ive confused when I should have clarified. On reading your reply

a)I doubt my teaching skill :( :( :(

b)I can't stop trying. reduce generally requires an object, eg: reduce risk (risk is the object)

When it works without an object in limited contexts, it carries a different meaning eg: He has reduced. (there is no obj) meaning he has lost weight by dieting, NOT he has become less.

It is like the verb fly.
eg: Pilots fly aeroplanes. (Planes is the obj)
Birds fly. (see, there is no object)
fly means something different in each context.
'Congestion will reduce.' is something like saying 'Pilots fly.'

c)I suggest you forget I said anything at all and use the words anyway you want.

The poem is by a poet called Yeats and conveys that the.... oh never mind...

Btw, don't feel stupid . Compared to my sense of failure, your lapse is nothing :(:(:(:(

Shaken and Shattered, MM

Anush said...

it depends on who is being taught :)

anyway, clearer now, wit all the examples :)

and i meant Bacon's essays, not Yeats' poem (which is no use being explained)

anyway, thanks for the patience! :)

Materialmom said...


It is a good student who asks doubts, so you must be one :)

Don't mention it, I owed you :)

ThalassicReverie said...

I was busy reading and re-reading. If I could , I wouldn't ever get out of the pages of my books.

I have 2 kids (class 3 and 4) coming for tuition.

Would write inshaAllah. If not for you , then for whom ? :D

Nobody really understands what I write anyway.
Friends applaud without appreciating.
The admirers , prefer love letters/poems.

Might as well be locked up in a lunatic asylum , and paint the walls with pleasure.

( Btw , one shouldn't wish for 'an audience' if one really wanted to write , is it not ? )

Materialmom said...

Ah books are such good friends!

I think one day, you will have a huge audience, provided you give them something to read.. and I don't mean blog posts :)We've spoken about this.

Communication involves a listener/ reader, so wanting an audience is right. And friends may just not have time.

Love letters?? poems???


I guess we all are erroneous in some way or the other. After all, to err is human . . .