July 28, 2011

Should You Have Less Sex?

Or should you have fewer sex? Don't worry. I'm not advocating a reduction in your X-rated activities. I'm talking grammar. I know the rule. Mass nouns = less/count nouns = fewer. If you can count a noun on your fingers, you use fewer. Right, Grammar Girl?

I'm actually working on a piece that focuses on less and fewer right now, which is why I bought this magazine in the first place. The headline caught my eye. Because "sex" stumps me. Is it really a mass noun, like clutter?

Grammar Girl states: Sometimes it isn't obvious if something is a mass noun or a count noun because some words can be used in different ways. For example, coffee can refer to either a mass of liquid or a cup of liquid.

*Insert* Aren't you pleased I found a grammar example relating to coffee?

If you're responsible for filling the coffee decanter at a wedding, and you're getting carried away, your boss might ask you to make less coffee. But if you're a waiter serving cups of coffee to the tables, and the crowd is waning, your boss might tell you to bring out fewer coffees next time. She means cups of coffee, but it's common to hear that shortened to just coffee as in “Bring me a coffee, please.” Remember that I said mass nouns (like coffee) can't be made plural? In this example, I've made a mass noun plural, but in the process I transformed it into a count noun. So the rule still holds.

Look, I know "Should you have fewer sex?" is wrong. But I still don't get why it's wrong. Because I still can't wrap my head around sex being a mass noun. Grammar Girl says, "Mass nouns are just things that you can't count individually."

But does sex fall into that category? If you (or maybe I) can say, "Wow, I had sex 36 times this month," isn't it a count noun?

Hmmm. I'm going to try to use the coffee analogy. If you were responsible for having sex with all of the groomsmen at a wedding, and you were getting carried away, your boss might ask you to have less sex.

Oh, wait. Maybe "sex" is a mass noun because it encompasses so many different positions. In the above example, what if we changed sex to "blow jobs." If you were responsible for blowing all of the groomsmen at a wedding, and you were getting carried away, your boss might ask you to blow fewer groomsmen.


Did I solve it?

Maybe I need to go back to the coffee. No, not the example. The pot.



Jo said...

with the 36 example, you're counting the times, not the general sex. Having sex is like having coffee, I guess :)

You can have a CUP of coffee, but you ask for less coffee in your cup. Fewer coffeeS during the day.

Fewer sexual acts, less overall sex.

Not that I'd know, really, I don't think I could really have less if I tried, sadly.

Alison Tyler said...

I like that, Jo. "Having sex is like having coffee." Two things I worship.

I think grammar guides should all be written using sexual examples. A dirty Strunk & White, you know? Diagram this sentence: "Janie thrust three fingers up her girlfriend's snatch."



P.S. Thank you for telling me I could have a cup of coffee. I fucking *need* a cup of coffee.

Jo said...

Hmm. A good thing and a bad thing:

you might like that I tell my kids to put use SEX in their essays -

S - statement
E - example
X - Xplain how example is relevant.

Ok, the last one is naff, but it's relevant.

Bad thing: whisper* I really think you should drink no coffee... go through the cold turkey and reclaim your life...

it's ok, you don't have to respond to that one.

Erobintica said...

I might have done better in algebra and calculus if sex was used in all the problems. ;)