Listener's Letters: Gourmet or Gourmand?
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And it's time now for your comments. This is also the time when we make corrections. And we have a couple.
In a report last week about how fuel economy regulations might be changed, we said that vehicles weighing between 8500 and 10,000 pounds might lose their exemption. Turns out it's not something simple, like pounds, the government uses. It's the gross vehicle weight rating, which is a combination of what a vehicle weighs and what it can carry.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We were right about this, though. When the new rules came out yesterday, the big SUVs did lose their exemption.
And in our story yesterday on the rat-tail fish, we called a marine biologist by the wrong name. He's David Bailey, not David Black of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who studies the mystery muddy plain at the bottom of the ocean.
INSKEEP: Our reports on American public diplomacy this week drew this response from Carol Clark of Glens Falls, New York. She wrote, Karen Hughes heads an agency that would more properly be named the U.S. Ministry for Propaganda.
Mary Beth Collins wrote from Madison, Wisconsin to say, I hope for the sake of their own efforts to soften world opinion, that their own interview with NPR did not hit the international airwaves.
We welcome your feedback on any of the stories you hear. Just go to npr.org. and click on Contact Us.
MONTAGNE: But wait, Steve. We're not quite done with letters yet. In a story about the closing of a beloved restaurant in California's San Joachim Valley, we said the Imperial Dynasty Restaurant, quote "hosted European monarchs, dignitaries and gourmands from around the world." That prompted Matt Gaffney of Los Angeles to write, I suspect you meant to say gourmets, rather than gourmands.
And that prompted us to turn to wordsmith Philip Gooden, who's written about this sort of mix-up, Who's Whose: A No-Nonsense Guide To Easily Confused Words.
Mr. PHILIP GOODEN (Author, Who's Whose: A No-Nonsense Guide To Easily Confused Words): It's a very common mistake. My feeling is, actually, that both words deserve a rest. Because I think they almost invite misuse. A gourmand is properly someone who is fond of food and not very particular about what kind of food they have. They just want it in large quantities. Whereas a gourmet is someone who does know about food and cares about it. So they're really almost kind of polar opposites.
MONTAGNE: Well, let's move on to some other pairings that seem to trip people up quite regularly: fewer and less.
Mr. GOODEN: Fewer and less is one of the more contentious ones. I mean, the simple rule is that one uses fewer where you're talking about anything which can be divided into distinct units. And you use less about anything which is a single unit.
MONTAGNE: For instance, if you were to say fewer shoppers go into that store everyday. That would be correct.
Mr. GOODEN: That's absolutely right.
MONTAGNE: And if you said less shoppers go into that store every day.
Mr. GOODEN: That would be wrong.
MONTAGNE: There's two words that would be easy just to mangle just in the saying. And that's negligent and negligible...
Mr. GOODEN: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
MONTAGNE: ... and certainly easy to confuse.
Mr. GOODEN: But very different actually. If something is negligible, of course, it's insignificant. It doesn't matter. It doesn't count. But negligent can only be applied to a person. And of course is a word of disapproval, and you're suggesting that somebody has overlooked something, a piece of work which they should have done, or they should have done with more attention.
MONTAGNE: And as I think you point out in the book, one could be negligent about something that is of negligible value.
Mr. GOODEN: Yes. And I suppose if you were negligent about something negligible, you might be more easily forgiven for being negligent than if you were negligent about something significant.
MONTAGNE: Philip Gooden is the author of Who's Whose: A No-Nonsense Guide To Easily Confused Words. And he spoke to us from Bristol, England.