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February 15, 2007 09:27 AM

Broken: Misuse of the word "some"

From a New York Times story today:

" has offered intensive trial coverage, using some six contributors in rotation."

What does "some six contributors" mean? Wouldn't "six contributors" be more accurate? Or does the reporter not know how many contributors there are? Then the word should be "about", not "some."

I see this all the time: newspapers and magazines say "some" when they really mean "about." The summary above could have said that the site is "using about six contributors."

I think that journalists don't like "about" because it clearly states that they don't know quite what the number is. "Some" sounds more accurate without actually being accurate. That's a cheap upgrade.


This use of "some" as an adverb is fine, according to the dictionary:

Posted by: Drew Bell at February 15, 2007 09:51 AM

Of course. You can say "some contributors," or "six contributors," but you shouldn't say "some six contributors."

Posted by: Mark Hurst at February 15, 2007 10:14 AM

According to Webster's: "When some is used to modify a number, it is almost always a round number." In this case, "some six contributors" doesn't make much sense because it's such a small number. It's not like they're rounding off to the nearest ten or hundred.

Posted by: dx27s at February 15, 2007 10:27 AM

I have some one problem with this use of the word some: it is just silly... I suspect the reporter was trying to pad his word count.

Posted by: VHoratio at February 15, 2007 11:19 AM

"Some" in this usage is to emphasize a large number, as a synonym for "a whole whopping" number, e.g. "Some 87 accordionists took to the stage." The author is commenting that not just one but a whole SIX contributors are on the case.

What's broken isn't necessarily the use of "some" to remark on the unusually high number of contributors, but the usage in reference to a single digit number. The meaning becomes unclear when the apparent emphasis on many refers to a number that would ordinarily seem to indicate just a few.

Posted by: Erich at February 15, 2007 12:35 PM

What we really have is a reporter educated beyond his intelligence. He knows that "some" can be used somehow to make a number sound dressed up, yet he's not sure how. But what the hell, he'll give it a try anyway. Most of his readers won't know either, and they'll think he's smart, too. Just your basic moron.

Posted by: tartan at February 15, 2007 12:47 PM

_@_V - would rather get people to stop abusing the word "literaly" or at least throw a "figuratively" into the mix now and then.

Posted by: she-snailie_@_v at February 15, 2007 02:15 PM

This reminds me of an old George Carlin rant:

"Here's one they just made up: "near miss". When two planes almost collide, they call it a near miss. It's a near hit. A collision is a near miss."

Posted by: Haggai at February 15, 2007 02:37 PM

I agree with VHoratio and tartan. It seems that today's news people have to fill time with useless words. If a broadcaster says "actually" in the course of a broadcast, does it mean that we might otherwise not believe what is being said? Sadly, one of our local stations has a weather person who loves cliches and made up words. "As the day wears on" and during the hurricane season, a storm is "progged" to develop or "progged" to travel up the coast. If the real word is supposed to be "projected," use it!

Rant ends.

Posted by: fred at February 15, 2007 02:53 PM

I've gotta agree with snailie...especially when what is then said is not actually literal but very much a simile. "The room literally exploded with activity." Oh yeah, where's the smoke and fire and flying debris? It didn't "literally" do anything of the sort.

Posted by: Erich at February 15, 2007 03:19 PM

My suspicion is that by 'some, the reporter means 'about', i.e. he doesn't really know how many. 'About' makes it too obvious that he doesn't know, and it is more of an estimate.

Posted by: DavesBrain at February 15, 2007 03:45 PM

she-snailie_@_v, you don't mean to literally throw a figuratively in, do you? Will it bounce or stick? Are they hard, do you know? Do they feel pain? I am literally figurative here. Please help. :-)

Posted by: tartan at February 15, 2007 04:59 PM

Haggai: It's a miss that's near. As opposed to a far miss.

Posted by: Fuzzy at February 15, 2007 08:46 PM

Fuzzy: You're missing the point.

Posted by: Haggai at February 16, 2007 07:57 AM

In order to remove 'some' from our vocabulary and introduce more words my friend and I have chosen to define 'some' as "more that one could conceivably need."

Thus 'some pretzels' would require a truck or two to deliver.

We have also defined 'big' as "2/3 the previously conceivable size"."

Posted by: arcticJKL at February 16, 2007 10:17 AM

Well, arcticJKL, that's some big task you set out for yourselves.

Posted by: tartan at February 16, 2007 11:55 AM

Some of you might agree that it has been quite some time since we saw the word "some" being used in context properly.

Some strange feeling tells me that this particular word can be used in some cases to refer to one thing or one set of things, it doesn't always have to be referring to plural things.

So, the newspaper isn't actually misusing the word. It's just a bit unusual, maybe redundant.

Posted by: Amoeba1911 at February 26, 2007 09:50 AM

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