less is more

I tend to avoid the big American food and coffee chains, and don’t think I’ve been in a Starbucks more than three times in my life. However, I was shopping in Bristol with my sister this summer and there came a moment when coffee became a high priority. Preferably coffee in a real cup. Oh, and a comfy seat. Coffee in a real cup, a comfy seat, and perhaps a piece of carrot cake.

And Starbucks seemed to meet the criteria.

Apart from the stupid names they use for sizes, I guess there’s not much to complain about regarding the service or the food and drink they served. While waiting in line – I’m sure that no one “queues” in Starbucks, even in the UK – we were given tasters of their skinny stem ginger “muffin of the moment” as well as the banana chocolate blend “vivanno” (with and without espresso) and all the staff were chirpy without being over-familiar.

So I guess a normal client would be happy with the experience. Only, of course, I’m not normal: I’m a language pedant. And the paper serviettes carry a slogan which irritated me so much the carrot cake stuck in my craw.

Less napkins. More plants. More planet.

Less napkins. But napkins are countable. I know. I took three: one for me, one for my sister, and one spare. So it should be Fewer napkins.

Or perhaps less napkin, indicating a napkin of a reduced size. But never less in combination with a plural countable noun.

Mind you, although I’m a language pedant, I’m also irritated by this story from the BBC website. It says that Tesco have been persuaded by the “language watchdog The Plain English Campaign” to alter the signs on their checkout lines from the grammatically incorrect but perfectly understandable, “Ten items or less” to the grammatically correct, “Up to ten items

Yes, I’m a language pedant. Yes the use of “less” in those signs has bugged me for years. But although it may be wrong, it’s perfectly clear what it means.

What about the new phrase,”Up to ten items“? Is that “up to” inclusive or exclusive? It may be right, but it’s not clear. And surely clarity is what the PEC is all about?

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

2 thoughts on “less is more”

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