less (3). Today: Two Last Things. Part A: And “lesser.” Lesser,” like “less,” refers to quantity, but it is confined to use as an adjective before a singular noun and following an article {a lesser crime} or alone before a plural noun {lesser athletes}, thus performing a function no longer idiomatically possible with “less.” Dating from the 13th century, this formal usage allows “lesser” to act as an antonym of “greater.” Occasionally, “lessor” (= landlord) is misused for “lesser” — e.g.: “The nuclear-arms race has produced 70,000 nuclear bombs by the United States and a lessor [read ‘lesser‘] amount [read ‘number‘] by the former U.S.S.R.” Letter of Minerva Rees Massen, “In the Wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” S.F. Chron., 5 Aug. 1995, at A20. Part B: Adjective for Noun. As a noun, “less” means “a smaller amount” or “something not as important.” Occasionally, writers make it an adjective when it should be a noun — e.g.: “He wants business to make money and everyone to pay less taxes [read ‘less in taxes‘].” “The New, Improved Powell,” N.Y. Times, 13 Sept. 1995, at 14. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “Writing is rewriting. Most writers accept rewriting as a condition of their craft; it comes with the territory. It is not, however, seen as a burden but as an opportunity by many writers. . . . Rewriting is the difference between the dilettante and the artist, the amateur and the professional, the unpublished and the published. William Gass testifies, ‘I work not by writing but rewriting.’ Dylan Thomas states, ‘Almost any poem is fifty to a hundred revisions — and that’s after it’s well along.'” Donald M. Murray, “Internal Revision: A Process of Discovery,” in About Language 30 (William H. Roberts & Gregoire Turgeon eds., 2d ed. 1989).
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