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Friday, March 12, 2010

A Multiplicity of Multiples

Dear dears, Livia has noticed a trend, which is always disturbing to her peace of mind, implying as it does both intellectual laziness and paucity of imagination. This particular trend is the use of "multiple" to mean "many," "several," or "numerous."
  • "The congressman's behavior included multiple instances of tickle fights." (Wash. Post, 3/11/10)
  • Jimmy's homework consisted of multiple worksheets.
  • You have had multiple opportunities to clean up your act.
These are but a few of the usages Livia decries. Strictly speaking, "multiple" means "many copies of the same thing." So, loveys, you can't use it unless you're talking about repetition of or enlargement upon a single entity. Surely, each of Jimmy's worksheets was different--what would be the point of doing the same sheet over and over? Never mind.

As an appropriate usage, for example, "multiple birth" refers to the phenomenon of more than one child being born at the same time--presumably, several copies of the same kid, but applicable to non-identical womb-sharers as well.

Livia has corrected multiple instances of the misuse of multiple, and she fears that it is multiplying exponentially. Stop already! Plenty of accurate, concise, and descriptive words exist to describe a profusion of (fill in the blank). Use them!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Multiple means many, as any decent dictionary will attest.

Further, it and "multi-" have the same origin. "Multi-use" should be contradictory, according to your argument. So should "multifaceted" and "multi-talented." That prefix rarely refers to an exact copy. It's the type of thing that must be replicated, so we can have multiple worksheets even if they're not the same.

"Be fruitful and multiply" does not command people to have the same child repeatedly.

We can have multiple instances of swearing as long as the instances are numerous, but if someone uses the same expletive repeatedly, we don't have multiple swearwords. It seems you are confusing this.