retail news in context, analysis with attitude

In the UK, the Telegraph reports that all of Tesco’s new stores there will feature signs on express lanes that say “up to 10 items,” rather than the traditional “10 items or less.”

The change is being made after an effort by an organization called the Plain English Campaign to get the chain to use proper English in its stores.

The use of “10 items or less” is considered to be incorrect because “less” means “not as much,” while “fewer” means “not as many.” However, a spokesman for the Plain English Campaign says there remains some debate about this issue because “this can be tricky when referring to quantities. For example, we say less than six weeks, not fewer than six weeks, because we are not referring to six individual weeks, but to a single period of time lasting six weeks."

And so, rather than become embroiled in a new debate, Tesco decided to avoid the use of “fewer” and “less” altogether and go with the less debatable “up to 10 items.”

KC's View:
This has long been a pet peeve of mine, and I’ve always thought that “10 items or less” is improper English. It seems pretty evident to me, even if the Plain English Campaign seems to think there is room for argument.

However, I think we need to consider this in a broader context. I spend a fair amount of time in stores, and it always amazes me how often I see the English language being mangled in signs, and little effort being made at proper spelling. (Now, I realize that some of you will say that this falls into the “pot calling the kettle black school of criticism,” and I concede that both time and timing sometimes lead to mistakes on MorningNewsBeat. But I take these mistakes seriously, and fix them whenever I am alerted to them. And I take some solace in the notion that the first draft of history usually needs some editing, and that MorningNewsBeat is no different.)

It would be nice to see retailers try to be more precise on their signs and labels, and to attempt to spell words correctly and write in complete sentences.