24 June 2006

Less Isn't Best at M&S, the Grammatically Correct Supermarket

I was in the huge Marks and Spencer's store in The Gyle and at the checkouts I saw this wonderful sign. The word 'less' is used for single items, e.g. £100 or less – it's a binary choice, yes or no; or uncountable things, e.g. less money or less hair. Fewer is to be used with plural items, e.g. fewer pound coins or fewer hairs on his head. '£100' is a single item, it's not saying 100 lots of one pound notes (as this is written from Scotland). '10 items' is clearly countable as you have to count the number of items you have, although within that a four pack of beer counts as only one item. As you have to count single items up to reach the maximum of 10, then you have to say "10 items or fewer" - no discussion!

Asda got around it years ago by introducing the concept of relativity into supermarkets, but I haven't had a chance yet. On the subject of Asda I was there a few months ago and came over very ill. I needed to pay for the few things I had and get out of there quickly. I went to a 'hand baskets only' checkout, which in the business is used to take about 20 items or so, a bit bigger than the '10 items or fewer' ones. The very irritating cashier turned to me and said “this is for hand baskets” only to which I replied “I only have six items”. He refused to serve me so rather begrudgingly I took my six items out of the trolley right in front of him and placed them in a basket. He reluctantly served me and I was not amused. Yes I do have the knowledge of what that checkout is really for and refusing to serve be based on my method of carrying the items is not valid. If I simply carried my items to the checkouts in my hands would he have been consistent and said “you don't have a basket, go away”? I doubt it (although I can't be certain ;-)...