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Please, no wagering

Now this comes over the transom:

Please settle a lunch bet. Is it better or is there a difference between using the words "some or about." For example, what is correct? "About 24 journalists were injured in Egypt" or "Some 24 journalists were injured in Egypt."

I see AP uses about and Reuters uses some.

What do you suggest? 

I suggest a look at Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, which says that some in the sense of about as an adverb with a number is entirely conventional. However, that conventional use is with a round number, to suggest approximation rather than precision.

Some commentators, such as Theodore Bernstein, M-W points out, have objected to some with specific numbers, as in the instance above. This, I think, explains why some editors, with their inherent proclivity to make law out of guidelines, object to some in place of about with all numbers.

I can’t say that the usage bothers me much in either instance, and I suggest that the point is not worth spoiling anyone’s digestion.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 12:30 PM | | Comments (12)
        

Comments

“About 24” means “approximately 24”, that is, a quantitative estimate.

“Some 24” means “a sample or a subset of size 24 from a larger population”, that is, an existentially quantified logical term. Depending on the idiomatic context, the speaker may intend either approximately 24 or exactly 24 as the size of the sample.

John, I'm surprised you didn't include another, similar qualifier:

"Like, 24 journalists were injured in Egypt."

:-)

Although in all seriousness, there are constrained semantics associated with "like" as an approximator, as here.

Seems simple enough to me. Rules prohibit beginning a sentence with a number? Throw some word in front of the offending 24.

I vote for "roughly 24." The word "roughly" seems honest somehow. It implies, "We don't know. We're just saying."

It would sound odd to write, "Use some one and a third cups of milk," but not odd to write, "Use about one and a third cups of milk."

Thanks for the answer. But I am still puzzled. Looking at a prior post you said you actually changed some to about....Here's what you said, " 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."

While perhaps it does not send off an editing alarm bell, but why change a story if you are not improving it? Old habits are hard to break? Does AP or Economist style address the issue?

I don't always have the courage or presence of mind near deadline to defy boneheaded rules/conventions/preferences at work.

Some six good comments here. Not about some a half dozen comments, nor roughly that number. My take is that 'some 24 people' is precisely that: two dozen, not 23 or 25.

What john dmj said. Why would you approximate a number like 24 in the first place?

Good question, Mary. If I were approximating, I'd say, "about 2 dozen" or, "roughly 25". (Actually, I'm inclined toward "25ish", but I don't even want to open that door, and I'm quite sure there isn't anything interesting to say about it.) 24?? Who guesstimates 24?

I'm agnostic on about/some -- it seems roughly the same.

I'd vote "about." My mind tells me that is how I would write it as a reporter. That's not necessarily a grammer decision, but it feels right.

Maybe that was a grammer decision.

Professor?


Yo mike,

Your slightly tongue-in-cheek, "Like, 24 journalists were injured in Egypt." from yesterday's commentary underlines the ubiquity of the word "like' in predicating so much of today's young folks' casual back-and-forth banter amongst themselves. Like, it's like totally, annoying.

Living in "The Valley" (The San Fernando Valley), here in L.A., the original heartland of 'Valley Girl speak', I would guess that the continuing inordinate use of "like" these days is a linguistic holdover from those halcyon days when 'Valley Girl-ese' was echoing from every mall within earshot.

Frankly, what probably irritates me even more than the "like" thingy, has to be the extremely lame "he goes (or "she goes") intro many teens use to predicate what a particular "he", or "she" had said, or done, that was so darn earth-shatteringly important.

And my last old fogey pet peeve w/ today's young folks' cliched manner of speech, or overused faux hipster lingo, is guys constantly referring to the person with whom they're engaging in conversation, as "dude", which in my mind should solely be reserved for banter between young surfers, who I believe, right here in Southern California, originally came up "dude"------what some might regard as a slightly macho term for a surfin', with-it, happening, regular kinda guy. Just sayin'.

Well, I'm NOT off to wash my hands, but maybe I'll just like gag myself w/ a spoon, in keeping w/ the Valley Girl tradition. HA!

Where's Moon Unit Zappa when you really need her? HA!

ALEX

I'd settle the bet by saying, "You are making something about nothing."

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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 john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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