I admit to having growling moments in the car, at school, at the TV, all over the place because of one thing! Radio DJ’s (the RAW team at Highveld in particular), news reporters, copy writers of adverts (the Garnier people), headmasters, teachers, and even my children (shock horror!!) using the word “amount” when they should use the word “number”.
It’s a little thing and it probably puts me in the category of pedantic language user, but once you know the difference, the incorrect use of the term SCREAMS at you. I had to sit through a thank you speech on Saturday, in which an educator talked about the “amount” of people she needed to thank. But this is a person who is in the communication and education business, and she does not know the difference. It’s scary!
I started squirming and muttering “Number, number, number of people.” Yes, the parents around me were subtly trying to edge their chairs away from mine, convinced I was about to stand up and give way to a full-blown attack of Tourette’s Syndrome.
Than I considered how I would graphically explain the difference. And here it is, scribbled after my muttering attack, refined today.
By using the Dinner Theory – the difference between peas and mashed potatoes. Peas can be counted individually (if you really wanted to count them), but with mashed potato you can’t count the individual molecules. So number of peas and amount of mashed potato. Fewer peas, less mashed potato if you aren’t hungry. More peas and mashed potatoes if you are famished!
So people, like peas, are measured in numbers. Even though, at the latest count, there are 6,794,431,308 people in the world we can all still be counted! I think that using the term “amount” when referring to people is not only incorrect, it’s insulting – it negates the individual completely.
The only time that this would be accurate would be it this happened:
So next time you are planning to talk about the “amount” of people you would like to thank… consider the poor person in your audience who is about to start muttering and acting like a New York bag lady.