ExxonMobil and fewer greenhouse gas emissionsNovember 13, 2007 at 6:56 am | Posted in Emissions, ExxonMobil, Grammar, Greenhouse gases, Misinformation, Use of English | 3 Comments
Fresh from London Heathrow airport, at the entrance to “that tunnel” on my way to the M4, I noticed a large banner over three lanes —its pastel blue and green reassuring shades, with pure white text, caught my eye as I drove underneath—and I found the use of ‘fewer’ very clever in this gigantic piece of advertising:
and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Since I was in the right-hand lane, those words were all I could take in. What is on the left side of that wide banner, I ask myself? Well, next week when I pass the same way again, I shall take a look!
Aside from the fact that the entire right side of that banner is misleading, I have a grammatical bone to pick with ExxonMobil’s advertising team on this usage of ‘fewer‘.
For a start, the words ‘few’, ‘fewer’ and ‘fewest’ should only be used when writing about things that can be counted—like my fingers—as opposed to things that can be measured—like my height. Measurable quantities use the terms ‘less’, lesser’ and ‘least’. Emissions can be measured, but each and every individual emitted particle is not counted. Even when talking in terms of parts per million (ppm) nobody expects the parts to be counted like beans!
So, ExxonMobil’s team should go back to their gigantic drawing board and start again. However, it is clear that the reason they chose to use ‘fewer’ rather than ‘less’ is that ‘fewer’ implies that ExxonMobil’s greenhouse gas emissions are few (thus conjuring up a small or an insignificant number a little greater than one in most folks’ minds). These ad guys are crafty, abusing the English language as slickly as they do to greenwash their way to higher profits and bonuses.
Needless to say, I had to check the ExxonMobil European website to see what one of the world’s largest companies may be telling me at one of the world’s busiest airports on one of the world’s potentially most widely read banner headlines!
Ah, well: no image of the ad there, but here are a couple of Opinion-editorials from ExxonMobil in Europe’s Media Centre, for my information (not yours!) as I am still pondering what could be on the sinister side of that misleading abuse of English 😉