1. Athywren says

    Aw, c’mon Mr Al! I was enjoying that, but then you said, “’cause you write like a spastic,” and it’s affected my own want to avoid word crimes. Now I like it fewer then I did. :(

  2. Walter says

    thank you barbaz, I was just about to conform to our national stereotype and complain about not being able to watch the clip :)

  3. knowknot says

    Pleasant surprise… getting a chance to actually laugh at what was previously a good groove spoiled by the bad taste of irritating, embarrassing, prurient, even disgusting lyrics.
    Pop mouthwash from Weird Al. Nice.

  4. sambarge says

    Pop mouthwash from Weird Al. Nice.

    Exactly. I was going to post the same thing. Finally a version of Blurred Lines that I can listen to without feeling like I need a shower afterwards.

  5. Ben Wright says

    Alas, the video perpetuates the less/fewer hypercorrection. Less is acceptable for count nouns. Fewer is not acceptable for every count noun, and sounds clumsy for large numbers.

    “Fewer than three apples” – correct
    “Less than three apples” – also correct
    “Fewer than three dollars” – incorrect
    “Fewer than three billion apples” – borderline

  6. Alverant says

    I disagree about the Oxford comma. It’s still necessary unless you want to combine the last two items in a list.

    The video reminds me of “Stop Forwarding that Crap to Me” from his last album.

  7. consciousness razor says

    “Fewer than three dollars” – incorrect

    There are cases when that could have a definite (or “correct”, if you like) meaning which is different from “less than three dollars.” Suppose you’re counting dollar bills. You don’t have any coins, and you’re not looking at an electronic bank statement or anything like that. You see that you have two dollar bills, sitting there in front of you on the table. That is a case when you have fewer dollars than if you had three, unlike the case where you have $2.99 and you want to say this amount is less than three. Maybe you’re going to roll some joints with them to ease your frustrations about bad grammar; but anyway, it matters that you’re not just talking about monetary value that can come in fractions (or even irrational constants), but a single physical object that you can count. If you cut those bills into pieces (because joints aren’t that big), you’d still have halves or thirds or whatever of some number of dollar bills, which is fewer than three. You didn’t start with $2.99, and you can’t roll joints out of coins or electrons in a bank’s computer system, not easily at least, so there’s no reason why that kind of description would come naturally or that it would clearly express what exactly you’re doing with the things you’re talking about.

    I also don’t see what the problem is with “fewer than three billion.” Whatever the issue is there, if you want to say this is wrong, or that something close to it is wrong because it’s “borderline,” then I don’t see how that’s consistent with the idea that a variation on the same kind of claim amounts to “hypercorrection.” If none of these are corrections you really ought to make, because they are “acceptable,” then you shouldn’t be making them yourself.

  8. Ben Wright says

    I think I borked it in the process of trying to make it clearer. What I wanted to say was that quantities of money don’t work with ‘fewer’; I shied away from using ‘pounds’ to avoid ambiguity between money and weight measures.

    Dollars being some strange, alien currency, it didn’t occur to me that the word could also be used as a noun for the bills themselves. While we do sometimes use ‘pound’ or ‘quid’ in that way over here to refer to the coin, ‘three pounds’ would never be used to mean £1+£1+£1 to the exclusion of £2+£1 or £1+£1+50p+50p.

    Of course, weight measures are another situation where ‘fewer’ is wrong, so I needn’t have bothered getting into that mess.

    As for ‘fewer than three billion’, it’s subjective but it seems very artificial, something a non-native speaker would use but never a native speaker. ‘Fewer’, to me, always includes the strong implication that the quantity is small, in some absolute sense. Using it with large numbers comes across as an oxymoron.

  9. carlie says

    With the count nouns, I always understood the rule of thumb to be that if you were talking about them as a group, then you’d use less. So “fewer than three dollars” is how much money you have, but a single object costs “less than three dollars”.

  10. Ben Wright says

    I’ve dug out the reference that pulled the scales from my eyes on less and fewer:

    The meat of it is in the scanned M-W Concise Dictionary of English Usage excerpt, but the blog post itself has some interesting numbers on how the words are actually used, which is what I base my idea of ‘preferred’ usage on.

    I don’t want to baldly state my opinion on splitting infinives.

  11. Brian E says

    I don’t want to baldly state my opinion on splitting infinives.

    Splitter! Heretic!

    That was pretty good. I’ve heard the tune before, but didn’t know that was by that Thick guy, and thus didn’t know it was a misogynist craptacular turd. Although, I think the misuse of spastic was an error.

  12. Jackie the wacky says

    Yeppers. “A spastic” wiped the smile right off my face.

    Dammit, Al. You’re better than that.

  13. spamamander, internet amphibian says

    I’ll admit that the “spastic” did throw me, but I’m giving the benefit of the doubt in that in the US it tends to be further removed from it’s original meaning and may not always be seen as offensive. Not saying that makes it acceptable, but only that there may be legitimate ignorance about how it is ableism.

    For me, not insisting on the Oxford comma was more of a disappointment.

  14. says

    “Spastic” bothered me, as did the fact that Weird Al’s parodies are of the affectionate variety, and what that implies about his feelings toward “Blurred Lines.” Though that may just be a matter of liking the song musically, without agreeing with the message of the lyrics.

    He also used at least one homophobic slur on a previous album. No heroes ever, indeed.

  15. magistramarla says

    Yes, many people use “spaz” as a put-down.
    I was recently diagnosed with hereditary spastic paraplegia, so I’m a little sensitive when someone uses spastic as an insult.

  16. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Can’t really abide parody music, or Weird Al*…but…
    I’ve come to accept that the difference in usage between “fewer than” and “less than” is completely trivial. I can’t think of any example in which substituting one for another would cause difficulty in interpretation. Not using an Oxford comma on the other hand is the stuff of comedy legend. Spliting an infinitive is perfectly cromulent.
    *With the exception of his work in film. I’m thinking specifically of 1989’s UHF which was a delightful romp, not to mention break-out film for the unknown Michael Richards. Or at least not well known.

  17. Athywren says

    I’ve come to accept that the difference in usage between “fewer than” and “less than” is completely trivial. I can’t think of any example in which substituting one for another would cause difficulty in interpretation.

    Sure, but there might be some examples that are fewer obvious than most people would consider when first thinking about it.

  18. Alex the Pretty Good says

    Heh … loved the visual dig at Ironic. I loves me some Weird Al … certainly not well-enough known on our side of the Mid-Atlantic ridge.

    It’s a good week for Weird Al lovers … I heard he’ll be releasing 8 new clips this week.

    Here’s another new one: Foil. Starts out like a back-to-basics (thing Fat or Eat It) .. but then … :D

  19. =8)-DX says

    @sambarge #7

    Finally a version of Blurred Lines that I can listen to without feeling like I need a shower afterwards.

    What? So you never saw this?

    There are plenty more where that came from. Blurred lines was actually a great opportunity to show the stupidity of sexism. Some of the parodies are just pop nonsense (not making a point) and some aren’t especially well made, but it made me personally love humanity a bit more to see all the clever feminist responses.

  20. Trebuchet says

    You lost me at “no naked women”. So I literally couldn’t watch it. And I don’t know what an “Oxford Comma” is, and could care less. (Is “could care less fewer than “couldn’t care less”?)

    With all seriousness: “Whom” is a word whose (who’s?) time has gone. Burn it from orbit. Its the only way to be sure.

  21. twas brillig (stevem) says

    confession time; mea culpa

    I am obsessively offended by the misuse of “less than” instead of “fewer than” [express lane at grocery stores especially]. I know the phrase’s common misuse has made it acceptable as equivalent, but I prefer the distinction of a discussion of countable objects uses the word “fewer” while “fluid-like” quantities stick with “less than”. I know it is a personal eccentricity, just fessin up.
    And “who” vs “whom” has a simple mnemonic to remember the correct use. Just substitute “he” for “who” and “him” for “him” while tacitly composing the sentence. Whichever sounds better, invert the substitution and you got the correct sentence.
    I wonder if Al addressed this: the correct usage of “its”. Just cuz it’s possessive, it don’t need an apostrophe; think of the following possessives that don’t use apostrophe: his, hers, ours. “Its” is one of those kinds of possessives.

  22. Ben Wright says

    twas brillig @29:

    “I am obsessively offended by the misuse of “less than” instead of “fewer than” [express lane at grocery stores especially]. I know the phrase’s common misuse has made it acceptable as equivalent,”

    That’s exactly wrong. Less has always been acceptable in that context; there has never been a time since the English language came to exist when it has been wrong. One man’s off-hand mention of a personal preference in a book published in 1770 was twisted into a fake rule of grammar somewhere down the line.

  23. Athywren says

    He offered an apology for the use of “spastic”. I mention this to inform, not opine.

    I reply to opine.

    If you thought I didn’t know that “spastic” is considered a highly offensive slur by some people… you’re right, I didn’t. Deeply sorry.

    Fucking awesome. Not a not-pology, a recognition of ignorance, a recognition of subsequent education, an apology.
    Weird Al Respect +1

  24. GirlNoir says

    I have to admit, I don’t understand the amount of love this song is getting. I used to be a staunch grammar pedant, but studying linguistics hammered that out of me pretty quickly. Prescriptivist grammar does nothing to improve communication, and really only serves to privilege certain types of language (typically whiter, more middle-class variants) over others (African-American vernacular, accented English, regional dialects spoken by people with less formal education). This song makes me cringe pretty hard, but I seem to be one of very few people having that reaction, so maybe I’m misreading something.

  25. kumasama says

    I quite agree with you, GirlNoir, and so does the Language Log. This video is just Weird Al bullying people for not caring about his particular peeves. Yes, in order to communicate using language, we need conventions. But the conventions are just that; they’re arbitrary historical relics.

    For example, has anyone ever stopped you in the middle of a conversation and asked if you meant “its” (possessive pronoun) or “it’s” (contraction of “it is”)? And yet there’s no phonetic distinction. Maybe our arbitrary orthographic distinction is just not that important.

    What really annoys me is the conflation of following a particular set of conventions with good writing. Using, or not using (depending on your camp), the Oxford comma does not make you a good writer. Having a clear message and communicating it in a way appropriate for the context makes you a good writer. So chuck your Strunk and White in the bin and think for yourself!