This is not a “conspiracy theory,” because it’s not a theory. It’s fact.
Someone or some group is trying to eliminate the word “farther” from our vocabularies.
When I was growing up, “farther” was a perfectly fine word, used routinely to compare distances.
My friend Dave lived farther from my house than my friend Lenny. If I didn’t know exactly where Dave lived, I’d have to look into it further. “Farther” was physical distance, while “further” meant time or degree.
Today, however, my distance-oriented word seems to have become more taboo than the F-word.
• A news anchor on National Public Radio, after talking about the Missouri River: “Further north, ... ”
• Tiger Woods talking about hitting a right-to-left shot, rather than a slice or a straight shot: “A draw can go 60 yards further.”
• A scientist on a TV show discussing the composition of the ocean floor off the coast of South Florida: “As you move further east ... ”
So the only real question is: Who or what is behind this dastardly conspiracy?
The Trilateral Commission?
• In Ordinary Love, his tribute to Nelson Mandela, Bono sings that we “can’t reach any higher” and we “can’t fall any further.” Aren’t we falling from one height to a lower one?
• U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, delivering the GOP rebuttal to the State of the Union address: “Too many [people] are falling further and further behind.” Others are passing them up on the financial ladder. Isn’t that distance?
• Brent Musburger during the Rose Bowl: “From the 19 [yard line] to the 20 — and no further.” Noooo!
In an effort to blow the lid off this conspiracy, I turned to one of the top language experts in the universe.
Merrill Perlman spent 25 years at the New York Times, four of them as director of the newspaper’s 14 copy desks. A copy desk — as ours would eagerly tell you — is a place where quasi-literate reporters are slapped upside the head by people who know all there is to know about spelling, grammar and a newspaper’s stylebook.
Today, Perlman is a consultant, an adjunct prof at Columbia University and author of a language column for the Columbia Journalism Review.
She also has edited a slew of big-time authors, including (posthumously) Kurt Vonnegut. (Posthumously for him, not her. That made things easy, because Vonnegut couldn’t argue.)
Anyway, if anyone in America would know who is behind this ugly turn of events, it would be Perlman.
• Charlie Rose talking about the Boeing Dreamliner with the CEO of United Airlines: “This plan can go further ... ”
• A Sports Illustrated profile of the late NBA player Bison Dele: “Kevin drifted further and further away from his family by the time he showed up in New Zealand.”
Perlman, after considering my nominees, said I am absolutely, positively correct. Some of the time.
“I’d make it ‘farther’ only with ‘farther north,’ Brent and Tiger, and the scientists in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. ...
“Did Charlie Rose want the Dreamliner to have a wider range, such as the ability to fly nonstop around the world, or just that he wanted it to have Wi-Fi and electrical outlets at every seat?”
Perlman also said I should calm the hell down.
“Does it really make a difference?” she asked. “They both mean a distance, be it physical or metaphysical, and that’s all the reader needs.”
What? This revered arbiter of the English language is running up the white flag?
Turns out she has been doing quite a bit of that lately.
“I gave up on always being correct [about farther vs. further] long ago, as I gave up on (or changed my mind about) ‘more than’ vs. ‘over,’ ‘like’ vs. ‘such as,’ and ... ‘hopefully.’ ”
She surrendered in part because she was fighting a losing battle. “It seems like a conspiracy because it is — everyone is against us.”
But she’s not losing any sleep over it.
“Because language changes, we do, too. ... Otherwise, you and I would never use contractions, and we’d be ‘thou’ing and ‘dost’ing a lot.
“I’m not giving in on ‘irregardless’ or ‘alot’ just yet, but my cohort is shrinking rapidly.”
Well, then, I suppose I, too, should surrender.
Shaken and demoralized, the clear victim of a conspiracy, I shall pursue this no further.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.