After three decades in the writing-editing trade, you get to recognise how language evolves. New words come into fashion and then fade away, some of them stick, some of them even end up being added to major dictionaries, at least in the online version and then quietly forgotten if they’re not deemed fit for the print version.
Grammar changes too. Split infinitives no longer need to boldly go anywhere; they’re fine. In fact, they always were. Usage goes through transitions and in the intermediate times between the old format and the new becoming fully adopted ambiguity reigns.
For instance, far fewer people use fewer when they mean less than they ever did…or is it the other way round less people use fewer less? Either way, the amount of people using less instead of fewer has risen. But, only if you imagine weighing all those people en masse and giving the quantity as a weight rather than actually counting them. The number of people. It’s the NUMBER OF PEOPLE. Not the amount!
But, why is that? Why do so many people seem to say “the amount of people”, when grammatically speaking the “number” is correct and “amount” just plain wrong? Why do fewer and fewer people say “fewer” when they mean less. Fewer people, not less (unless, again, you’re weighing them in bulk, or perhaps pureeing them all and measuring the total volume)?
I think the bottom line is that using the correct grammar sounds too posh and nobody but posh people want to sound posh, so the incorrect grammar becomes the common vernacular so that the non-posh sound common and the common or garden posh can affect non-poshness.
It doesn’t explain why everyone now also talks with an inquisitive inflection at the end of a statement in that Australian soap opera style. It’s as if they are unsure of themselves? And have to put some doubt into their tone? As if they’re only making an assertion gently? And, not stating something “robustly”? Or, maybe it does, maybe affecting an inferiority complex also makes one sound less affected, less posh. After all, truly posh people commonly have a superiority complex, even though we’re all born equal regardless of land rights an offshore inheritance tax avoidance schemes.
Conversely, starting a sentence with the word “So, ” makes you sound like you think you are superior. It implies that the listener should take as read all the inherent knowledge and wisdom about the subject under discussion and that if you don’t have that mentally to hand, then, well, you’re not worthy of hearing what comes after the “So, “.
So, it’s number of people, not amount, you cannot talke of less people, it’s fewer, unless they’re shrinking or you discussing weight loss and people en masse. And, why is it “water cannon”, singular? As if we’re discussing giraffe on the Serengeti rather than several vehicles with an abhorrent way of dispersing a crowd?
Robust answers on a postcard going forward, please…