As anyone who’s ever contributed to LockerGnome knows, I can be a pain in the butt about sticking to the rules of, as Chris calls it, PUGS (punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling). It comes as part of the job description of “editor,” I suppose.
But I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not above making my own mistakes. As far as the English language goes, some mistakes are more common than others and (very) arguably, some are more forgivable than others. I try to give every bit of text that comes across my virtual desk for inclusion in LockerGnome the once-over twice before sending it off to the world at large. Our readership ranges from very clever pre-teens to very clever adults (with a few trolls who try to spoil things for everyone, but they’re not very clever at all, so it doesn’t bother us too much); my goal is to make sure these readers get the best out of their experience here.
But once in a while (okay, it may be more like twice in a while, but I’m not a math guy), something slips through the cracks. Usually, one of you will catch it and give us royal heck about it. I guess you’re the ones giving my work a once-over twice — and the effort’s not wasted. I adjust. I adapt. Once I’m done weeping over lost chances at perfection, I will likely even correct the error that caused the hubbub in the first place. And you know what? I appreciate it! If you didn’t point them out to me, I wouldn’t be able to learn from such mistakes. So for all of the LockerGnome writers and readers past and present, this email from retired academic Michael R. Olson (or “Mike,” as he’s addressed by his friends) will vindicate any time I’ve ever nudged you for goofing up. In response to our recent TLDR video (included below), he writes:
“Sorry, but I couldn’t let this one go: ‘If I say gaga a certain amount of times in a row and spin in my chair, will she appear?’ This quote from today’s LockerGnome Daily Report contains an unfortunately common misuse of the word amount when you should have used the word number. Both words do refer to the concept of quantity, but in different ways. Amount refers to the quantity of something regarded as a single or self-contained entity or element, while number refers to the quantity of several entities or elements. Since you are talking about the quantity of times, which is plural and therefore not single or self-contained, you cannot use amount in your sentence. However, times, because it is plural and describes several entities or elements (in this case, saying the word gaga), you are obligated to use number to describe the quantity of times the word is said. It can be confusing, I know, but if you determine whether the word to which a quantity is linked is singular (time) or plural (times), the choice is easy: singular = amount and plural = number.
“I bring this to your attention because of your responsibility as a writer with a large audience to use proper English. This is particularly important when proper English is being battered by the multitude of new dialects that have resulted from the technological changes in communication methods like emailing and texting. The rules of capitalization and punctuation, for example, have been cast aside in many venues so that a reader is now forced to read a string of words and then puzzle over their meaning because the linguistic roadsigns signaling the beginning and ending of sentences are no longer in operation. The ability to spell words properly is a lost art. As an influential writer, you have an obligation to defend proper English from its many enemies by using it properly in those of your works that are meant for public consumption. Ultimately, the issue is (or will be) communication — the ability to understand others. As you probably know, in China, universal communication has been hindered by the multitude of regional dialects of the Chinese language that are so distinct from each other, that people speaking one dialect cannot understand/communicate with people speaking another dialect. American English has its dialects as well but none so extreme that communication between different dialects is impossible. However, we may be moving in that direction. To the degree that we value communication rather than miscommunication (order vs. chaos, more broadly), writers like you must continually defend communication by using proper English.
“As a retired college instructor, I am very sensitive to grammatical issues, having corrected the grammar in my students’ writing over the course of three decades. I’m not sure whether the writing ability of students is worse now, but I know it is not getting any better. Because the quality of writing was so low, students were unable to communicate with me (I couldn’t understand what they were trying to convey) and they received grades that reflected that fact. The sad thing is that they didn’t learn from one writing task to subsequent ones. They kept repeating the same mistakes over and over on every paper they submitted. I’m sorry if I went too far in my comments. I intended no harm or criticism but rather an opportunity to learn something you might not have known (but then, isn’t that pretty much what all teachers say?).”
No harm taken, Mike. Not only have you taught many of us a valuable lesson in the difference between number and amount, but also how to constructively criticize without belittling the person behind the mistake. A lot of people in the habit of leaving comments across the LockerGnome universe would be smart to print this out, frame it, and prop it up on their desks right next to their computers where they’ll always see it. Nobody’s perfect, but ignorance isn’t bliss! If we communicate these little gaffes (of which we’re all guilty) — nicely — to one another, there’s no telling how long this perfect English thing could last.