Wednesday, June 20, 2012


I generally like the writing of Lincoln Child, especially the stuff he's done with his writing partner Douglas Preston. So when I saw a new book of his at Barnes and Noble last week, I picked it up… even though, when I read the inside front jacket flap, I groaned in dismay.

I reacted this way because whoever wrote the jacket flap copy pushed one of my "pet peeve" buttons relating to use of the English language, and in this case, it was the misuse of the word "countless".

"Countless" is a great word -- it means, literally, "too numerous to count"...

… which is why when I read or hear it used to refer to something which is CLEARLY countable (as in something like "He knocked the bowl off his desk and countless M&M's spilled onto the floor"), its really bugs me. And that's been happening more these days as "countless" seems to be going down the same road as "awesome", another great word which has been so overused that it barely means anything now.

Here are the pertinent lines from the jacket flap:

"Deep within the Sudd -- a forsaken landscape that is neither land nor water, south of the Egyptian border -- Stone believes he has found the tomb of the god-king Narmer, the pharaoh who united upper and lover Egypt over five thousand years ago. Lost to history, Narmer's tomb is rumored to contain a prize that has been sought for countless centuries."

The way I read that, this pharaoh lived somewhere between five and six thousand years ago. At the outside, that is only sixty centuries. I can count that high in under a minute -- it's not even remotely "too numerous to count".

It's just another example of writers succumbing to the temptation to be bombastic and use words which over-exaggerate, for no good reason. Why mutilate the word "countless" when "many" would certainly suffice? -- PL

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