October 5th, 2005
Up to $1000 or more / in praise of sank and shrank
by Barbara Wallraff
Richard Symes, of Granville, N.Y., writes: “The phrase ‘up to,’ and its cousins ‘as much as’ and ‘as little as,’ are misleading or meaningless. An oil company will advertise that its gasoline will give you ‘up to’ 28 miles per gallon. That means a gallon could take you any distance from one to 28 miles. Similarly, if a lending institution offers mortgages for ‘as little as’ 3 percent, you could be charged 3 percent on up. Perhaps you could help people better understand what they are and are not being offered when these phrases are used.”
Dear Richard: Good point. But honestly? I don’t usually get upset unless “up to” or “as much as” is accompanied by “or more,” or “as little as” by “or less.” Then you know for sure that the writer doesn’t know what he or she is talking about or is trying to pull a fast one, or both. Consider these offers, which I found on the Internet: “Earn up to 35% or more.” “You can save as much as a thousand dollars or more.” And here’s one that even throws in a misspelled word: “Recieve a gift card worth up to $1000 or more.”
Susan Kott, of Caro, Mich., writes: “I’m stumped as to why the word ‘sank’ has all but vanished from contemporary use. The word ‘shrank’ also has shrunk from current usage. I’d love to read your opinion of this.”
Dear Susan: In my gloomier moments, you can find me holding my head in my hands and muttering: “There are fewer than 200 irregular verbs in English. Why the heck can’t people get them right?” But I once made a chart of all the irregular verbs, and then I began to see why they give people trouble.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.