Two Upstate senators say they voted against each incumbent University of South Carolina trustee because of “questionable activities” allowed to occur on two of USC’s campuses.

… [The senators cited] a performance on the campus of the one-woman show, “How to Become a Lesbian in 10 Days.”

“All we are asking for is balance,” [one] said.

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10 Responses to “Because it typically takes longer than ten days.”

  1. Mr Punch Says:

    How to Become a Gay Man in 10 Days?

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Mr Punch: Yes – another way of thinking about “balance.”

  3. charlie Says:

    Maybe they should attempt the off Broadway production of “How to Become An Educated University of South Carolina Graduate in Four Years.”

  4. Dom Says:

    The actual title of the show in question is “How To Be A Lesbian in 10 Days or Less,” not “Become.” It does seem rather bad, though: here is a video preview with gratuitous Justin Bieber music.

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Thanks, Dom – and we should point out that it should be “… Or Fewer.” (How to be a grammarian in ten days or fewer.)

  6. Dr_Doctorstein Says:

    Merriam-Webster has a different take on the question of less vs. fewer. According to the MW’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage (via Mark Liberman at Language Log),

    “The OED shows that less has been used of countables since the time of King Alfred the Great…. So essentially less has been used of countables in English for just about as long as there has been a written English language. After about 900 years Robert Baker opined that fewer might be more elegant and proper. Almost every usage writer since Baker has followed Baker’s lead, and generations of English teachers have swelled the chorus. The result seems to be a fairly large number of people who now believe less used of countables to be wrong, though its standardness is easily demonstrated.”

    According to Liberman and MW, “less” is not just acceptable but preferred for countable time-units. He offers as an example the MWCDEU quoting a line by Pope about Priam: “He loses in less than eight Days the best of his Army.”

    More at http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003775.html

  7. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Interesting, Dr_Doctorstein. I didn’t know that. I’d also add, on behalf of less, that it’s more poetic, to my ear than fewer (it has fewer – less? – syllables, for instance; packs more of a punch) …

  8. Alan Allport Says:

    Implicit in the M-W defense of ‘less’ for countables is the idea that, so long as you can find some historical precedent for a particular (mis)usage, that makes it OK. Which sets the bar impossibly high, and seems to me to misunderstand why grammatical rules ought to be enforced in the first place. There never was any Golden Age of grammatical purity in which everyone used words in the same agreed form.

    The test ought not to be ‘is there any precedent for this useage?’ It should be ‘do we lose anything from the language (in terms of precision, sophistication of thought etc.) if this rule is abandoned?’ It’s true, for instance, that disinterested has sometimes been used as a synonym for uninterested in the past. But it’s still worth demanding that the two words retain distinctive meanings, because disinterested in the sense of ‘not influenced by considerations of personal advantage’ is a useful word to have at one’s disposal.

  9. Dr_Doctorstein Says:

    Yes, Professor Soltan, definitely more poetic. I wonder why I like “the word ‘sea’ has less than two syllables” but not “‘sea’ has less syllables than ‘ocean.’” I much prefer “fewer syllables” to “less syllables.” This kind of stuff is catnip to the linguists at Language Log.

    Alan, you raise some worthwhile points. But I’m still sticking with the good folks at M-W.

    The idea is not quite “that, so long as you can find SOME historical precedent for a particular (mis)usage, that makes it OK.” Not just any precedent will do. Rather, one must have a significant amount of it by recognized masters of the language, e.g., Pope.

    In addition, one should look into the origin and legitimacy of the rule in question. If it was introduced by a single usage authority, perhaps for rather shaky reasons, and was then followed by the persnickety but continued to be ignored by the masses of competent writers, then it’s probably a zombie rule (like the prohibition on splitting the infinitive).

    I agree with you that we should ask, “do we lose anything from the language (in terms of precision, sophistication of thought etc.) if this rule is abandoned?” It doesn’t seem that “ten days or less” leads to any loss of clarity, precision, or sophistication, but it does please the ear and is a bit more punchy and concise–a net gain, if you ask me.

    I would note also that the use of “y’all” can be more precise than “you” when referring to more than one person. But we’re not about to abandon the rule proscribing it in Standard English. Even when well-established, the rules are not always optimal.

    For a nice take on the “prescriptivism vs. descriptivism” question, check out http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001843.html.

  10. Alan Allport Says:

    FWIW, I wouldn’t die in a ditch to defend the less/fewer distinction, which I agree isn’t terribly important either way.

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