My family is out to get me.
It began a few weeks ago when #2 left the piano bench during her practice time and sought me out in the kitchen.
“This song is so easy,” she said. “Can I play it less times?”
Before I could answer, I had to clear my throat and get my face under control. Then I launched into a speech about count nouns versus non-count nouns and therefore the proper usage of less and fewer.
“It drives me crazy,” I told her. “Commercials mess them up all the time. It’s not less calories. You can count calories, so it’s fewer calories. It’s not like time or flour, which you refer to in general quantities—less time, less flour. So it should be fewer calories. Fewer, people! Fewer!”
#2 just looked at me. “So . . . can I play it less times, then?”
(For any other grammar fascistas out there, I don’t hold to the antiquated school of thought that one must use “may” in requests such as these instead of "can." I’m not a savage.)
The song really was easy. Normally the kids are required to run through all songs five times each, but I decided to be flexible. “Fine,” I said. “You can play it three times today . . . if you ask me again using fewer. Say, 'fewer times.'”
She grinned. “Awesome, Mom. Thanks! Can I play it fewer times?”
“Yes,” I said, glad to have bestowed such a great grammar lesson upon my offspring.
As I turned away, she shot out, “Less times!” Giggling hysterically, she bolted into the living room.
“FEWER times!” I yelled after her.
“LESS times,” she called back, still laughing.
That exchange has since snowballed into the family finding glee at torturing me. They’ve always known that Mom’s a bit of a nut when it comes to grammar and usage, but they’ve never used it against me.
I don’t even know how the conversation got started the other night at dinner. All I know is that suddenly everyone was thinking up horrid grammar mistakes and hurling them across the table just to see the vein in my forehead pulse.
My husband even got into the game. Knowing one of my all-time pet peeves, he found ways to inject imply and infer into every conversation for the next few hours. He purposely (and rather brilliantly, I might add) used them wrong every single time.
That night, by the time I had on my pajamas, I was on the verge of calling for a strait jacket.
“Stop, stop!” I wanted to cry out. “Oh, the humanity!”
But after a good night’s sleep, something wonderful dawned on me. If my family knows enough to use incorrect grammar just to tease me . . . they also know the correct grammar because I’ve taught it to them.
Note: Thanks to Luisa, the Ultimate Grammar Fascista (one of the highest forms of praise I am capable of), for the use of her banner.
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