From time to time, some minor fixation, previously unnoticed, moves like a virus through the copy desk. I don’t think that we used to find some in the sense of about with a number to be objectionable, as in “some 35 opposition leaders,” but now I see a change indicated every time it turns up in a proof.
Let’s clarify. Some as an adverb to indicate an approximate number is a well-established usage, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, which explains that it is most commonly used in this sense with round numbers. Merriam-Webster’s identifies a secondary sense in which the word is used with an exact number as a mild intensifier to indicate surprise.
The late John Bremner objects to the usage in Words on Words as something “that has crept into newspaper jargon.” Theodore Bernstein’s Careful Writer also deplores it, but only in the specific context in which it refers to an exact number rather than an approximate one. He also dismisses constructions such as some thirty-odd leading figures as redundant (which it is). My learned colleague Bill Walsh agrees that about is preferable, but with round numbers, and calls some “a wimpy cross between about and I know.
Fowler, the New Fowler’s and Garner’s American Usage are silent. Perhaps they did not find it a serious issue.
Expressions using some as an adjective to indicate approximation are commonplace, such as “to have been married some years.” Functionally, it is equivalent to about. The question is whether it can also serve legitimately as an adverb.
I can’t say whether some suspicion of colloquialism or some regional difference may be in play. But some fails to set off the editing alarm in my head. I changed that sentence that had been marked in proof — that “police in Islamabad had orders to take some 35 opposition leaders into preventive custody” — to “about 35 opposition leaders,” but I don’t think that the change made for much of an improvement.