Sunday, August 31, 2008

10 Items, More Or Less

I'm all for correct spelling and good grammar - both of which are sadly in decline thanks, in many cases, to mobile phone texting and internet chatting in general.

I make lots of mistakes of course, but hopefully know when to use they're, there and their for example. Simple stuff but it's so annoying how many get it wrong.

So what about good old plain English ? You know. Lets not use lots of big words when simple ones will do.

At least that's what I always thought was meant by plain English.

Clearly the 'experts' at the Plain English Campaign have a different agenda.

Tesco, the largest supermarket chain in the UK, have a few checkouts in each store for those customers who only have a few items in their baskets. And as a single person often buying a few basic items, God bless them for it.

How many items ? Well about 10 items, since you ask.

Therefore the signs over these checkouts have stated "10 Items Or Less" for years now and I wasn't aware this was a particularly complicated or confusing request.

We've all been behind people with a lot more than 10 items in their baskets but these people are only making use of the great British attitude to such violations as they know they'll get a few tuts at best and a long stare or glare at worst.

But that's not to say these selfish bastards have misunderstood the sign or reckon that it can't possibly apply as it's patently ambiguous. No, they're (not their or there) just selfish bastards.

Enter The Plain English Campaign. This august body has decided that the word 'less' should not be used in this instance. According to them, 'less' is correct only when quantities cannot be individually counted - as in "I would like less water". When quantities CAN be counted, then 'fewer' should be used - as in "fewer than 10 apples".

Oh please.

I'm not sure what is more amazing here. That this bunch of nothing-better-to-do experts have complained about this to Tesco or that Tesco have taken heed of them and are going to change all their (not they're or there) signs. Yes they are.

The best part is that Tesco are going one step further, or is that backwards, by making the signs even more precise, if that was needed.

Not for them a sign stating "10 Items Or Fewer" or even "Fewer Than 10 Items." Oh no, that would be too easy. And maybe confusing. Or controvertial. Or something.

The new signs, being phased in at a Tesco store near you (well in the UK at least) will state.......

............drum roll please....................

"Up To 10 Items. Selfish Bastards Please Use Other Checkouts."

Well no, I added that last bit. I know. You guessed that already.

The Plain English Campaign are known as language watchdogs. Well watch this then : sod off you bunch of hairy assed fuckwits.

There. I've insulted them in less than 10 words. Or fewer. Well up to 10 anyway.


Jay said...

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...

Well, I'm all for plain English. Sadly, I think that Tesco's marketing/management department is right in this instance. I think that there are a lot of people who wouldn't be too clear on what 'fewer than ten' meant.

Up to ten, less than ten, either would be OK. But let's not give those selfish bastards any excuse to say they didn't understand, huh? Let's make it as plain as day that they are not permitted to use these checkouts for baskets laden with several dozen small items, or, indeed, their trolley.

Make them use those hideously irritating self-service checkouts with the beeps and silly voices.

Oh, and while we're at it, I've gone off Tesco in a big way, not least because produce can be labelled Irish, Welsh or Scottish, but not English. If its English, they label it 'British'. What's up with that? Why are we not allowed our national identity?

Debby said...

At least you're leaving my grammar alone today!

I asked the cashier at Wal-Mart the other day why she didn't say something to the person in front of me that had a heaping cart of things in an express lane. She replied that they're not allowed to! Why have a sign if you're not allowed to enforce it. Geez a simple 'Oh I'm sorry this is an express lane' would do. I agree, selfish bastards.

Jennyta said...

Strictly speaking, 'fewer than 10' is correct but the phrase 'Get a life' springs to mind. I am much more concerned by the news that Tesco labels English produce British. But then, according to the EU England no longer exists as such but rather is now divided into 9 regions. B******s!!!

Silverback said...

Jay, I suspect that anyone who claims that 'less than 10' and 'fewer than 10' aren't clear instructions will not take any notice of 'up to 10.' They know what all these mean. They're just the type who want out of there and know that no one will say anything to them. Supermarkets need to risk upsetting those people by refusing to let them through - although that needs the staff to be vigilant and pick them up BEFORE they start unloading their goods.

Yes Debby it has to start with the staff. Few customers are likely to risk a mouthful of abuse or worse from a 20 item customer but if the cashier leaves it until they have dumped all their items on the belt, then it's very difficult as reloading them and getting the customer to leave the line will take much longer than if they let them through - which is what the selfish bastard knows and relies on.

Anyway that's for a whole new blog post.

Daphne said...

"Ten items or less" is not perhaps grammatically correct, but perfectly understandable, and we're all used to it - which is surely what matters. "Up to 10 items" is ugly and I don't like it. And anyone who can't understand either "Ten items or fewer" or "Fewer than ten items" shouldn't be let out to go shopping. Both Tescos and the Plain English Campaign should have more important things to worry about!

rhymeswithplague said...

Well, I'm American and I received my instruction in English grammar between 50 and 60 years ago (It's not that I'm unsure of when I received it; I received it for ten full years). And "fewer" is correct in your supermarket example, not "less," and it indeed has to do with countable quantity as opposed to some indefinable amount. But that's not what drives me crazy.

What drives me crazy is that you ENGLISH (N.B., not British) blokes say "Tesco are" instead of "Tesco is" because collective nouns take a plural verb in your country and a singular one in ours. We would never say, "The United States are" because we are one nation, indivisible, and so forth. We do have occasional trouble with gender, however, as President Lyndon Johnson once assured America's allies that "Uncle Sam will keep her word."

They're, there, and their are merely minor skirmishes in the battle of life. Like its and it's. Like your and you're.
Don't even get me started on spelling (although I think your way is charming).

It was Churchill, I think, who said we are two countries divided by the same language.

rhymeswithplague said...

My behind is as bare as a baby's bum, but the rest of what you say may well be true....

Bun said...

Your second para re: they're / their / there left me embarrassed as I made just that typo on Daphne's blog yesterday!

It was a typo though, rather than me not knowing the difference. Honest! ;)

rhymeswithplague said...

Regarding my last comment (just before, you should pardon the expression, bun), here in my country when someone divulges something rather personal (such as, say, the hirsuteness or smoothness of one's derriere), the startled hearer should immediately respond with, "T.M.I.!!!" (Too Much Information!!!) and change the subject.

Just thought you should be aware of the rules of the game.

Oliver A. FP said...

"Up To 10 Items. Selfish Bastards Please Use Other Checkouts."

Er... when I run the world, that's exactly what they will say...

Is that bad?

Katie said...

I read this in the paper. To be honest if a sign stating '10 items or less' proves confusing to a person it's highly unlikely they would have the capacity to count to 10 anyway! Also - how much will this cost Tesco? Could they not leave the signs be and knock a few pence off the price of a tin of beans instead? We are in a credit crunch after all!

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