More pendentives, fewer squinches.

Saturday, September 12th, 2020

I’ve been squinching around in the muddy fields of grammar, annoyed with reports that the people at the Associated Press stylebook now are kinda “whatever” about the correct usage of “fewer” and “less.”

Just for the record: it’s not difficult. If you can discretely count the individual whatevers, you use fewer, and if it is an aggregated whatever, you use less.

  • Fewer people attended the concert.
  • Less electricity was available than last summer.
  • Less tear gas hung in the air because fewer canisters were thrown.

This is what I worry about: when enough people start using what can (and should!) be precise usage in a fuzzy or sloppy way, then it’s easy to say “oh, usage has changed.” Like hell it has.

At any rate, while I was doing this Very Important Web Work, Sammy was examining the details of architecture in Spain several hundred years ago, and she said she came across a word new to her: pendentive. Huh! New to me as well. Turns out it’s fairly foundational—it relates to the ways builders of arches and domes connected their dome-y shapes to the squared-off support structure underneath.

I came across this article on Squinches and Pendentives in Architecture as I texted with her. It’s got a couple of great diagrams and photos that made things quite clear to me. Both those words have, to my extremely untrained ear, a certain “naah, that can’t be what you call it,” but indeed, it is.

I think I was especially suspicious of “squinches” because we’ve used it a lot around here onomatopoeically to describe the sound Sammy’s footwear made when she first installed the custom orthotic that is a lasting part of her life post-2017-foot injury. She’d be squinching around here like crazy until she found the correct powder to use.