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Some say

My worthy colleague Craig Lancaster has taken violent exception at his blog, Watch Yer Language, to the word some as a synonym for about as an adverb modifying a number. A construction like some three dozen copy editors work in the newsroom would make his flesh creep.

Flesh also creeps on The Sun’s copy desk, judging from the red slashes marking that construction on our page proofs.

Never having been troubled by the usage myself, I’m curious about the origin of this distaste. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage takes no exception to it, citing examples from James Thurber and the Times Literary Supplement.

It locates objection only to the word used with exact rather than approximate numbers. One of the most notable objectors is Theodore Bernstein, who in The Careful Writer mocks the sentence “Some 35,683 attended the races at Acqueduct.” But even he says, “When used before a figure, some means approximately or more or less,” without objection.

Perhaps the distaste for the word comes from dislike of a separate usage, the rural colloquial she feels some better, spilling over into a different context. Or perhaps some copy editors, always wanting to be particularly careful, extended Bernstein's stricture to all such usages.

I’m inclined to add some for about to my rapidly growing list of Things Not Worth Bothering About.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:38 PM | | Comments (11)


I'd hoped to find blood-spattered pages, but I guess there are degrees of violence among copy editors that allow for less obvious contusions? That was some fine, though.

As a reporter, I sometimes find myself tempted to resort to "some" at the beginning of a sentence where I need to introduce a large number, and cannot launch it with nice, compact digits: "3,453 people attended..."

Rather than clunk up the sentence with "Three thousand, four hundred fifty-three fans turned out for the game..." (or incur the wrath of my editor with the passive voice: "The game was attended by 3,453 rowdy fans..," I'll consider instead "Some 3,400 people turned out..."

Of course, "About ..." would serve just as well. But I like the sound of "Some ..."

I have a request for coverage of an issue about citing sources -- so this is not a comment on the current post, but general.

Suppose that a writer reads a source with an interesting reference, and then looks up the reference and reads an entire article, call it A. Later citing the material, the writer makes direct and indirect quotes from A, properly cited. Should the writer also cite the original referral source?

I think this is more likely to happen with online articles/blogs, where A is only one click away. But proper citation among web sources is a growing issue: and I think that the traditional gatekeepers (you) are best equipped to tell us what to do.

Frank, "Merriam-Webster's" gives an indulgent nod to just such a construction, in which "some" is not intended in the sense of "about" but rather as an indicator of emphasis.

Anyhow, what you you doing reading this blog on a fine spring morning?

In support of this verdict - as I rather like the use of "some" for “about” myself - the first quotation cited in the OED for such a use dates to circa 888. Thus, it's not exactly a new phenomenon, as Mr. Lancaster would seem to suggest. (One could add that the first quotation using "about" in this sense dates from 1055, but the difference between c888 and 1055 in this context is perhaps yet another nice point.)

Over in Philly, David Sullivan might disagree. I remember seeing an entry in their stylebook that says using "some" sounds pompous and should be replaced with "about."

You should do a post entirely composed of things not worth bothering about. That'd be something worth bothering about indeed, some think.

"using "some" sounds pompous and should be replaced with "about.""

And this is worth a rule?

Maybe the writer *wants* to sound pompous?

of course, I work in magazines, not newspapers, and we give the writer a little more leeway.

I agree w/ Sam--I'd love to see a post of Things Not Worth Bothering About.

(and I'd put this one on that list, too)

It's just a crutch. It's nice to avoid saying

"About X ..."
"About Y ..."
"About Z ..."

over and over again, sometimes. "Some" is a helper word, visual grease for the reader, and is fine as far as I'm concerned if it is not ogverused (like the notorious "event").

Someone who thinks it's pompous needs to gaze upon "Approximately" as a possible synonym, or better, "It was variously estimated that" or "According to some people who were there" or "Jeez, I'd guess it was "

After all, the writer ain't supposed to insert hisserherself into the tale.

Speaking of things not worth bothering about, "over" not being used as a synonym for "more than" would top my list. As a copy editor, "over" is shorter than "more than," and I would vouch for its use any day. I am also joining the informal petition for a blog dedicated to things not worth bothering about.

Re: Some, About...

To many writers I believe "some" and "about" are interchangeable in the sense of approximately.

Therefore, some or about 5,800 people attended an event, i.e. a round number.

5,863 is an exact number, not an approximation and IMO should not be used with either some or about.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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