Further study

One of my favorite movies is Finding Forrester.  The reasons are many—the plot, the cast, the characters and the writing among them—but mostly its treatment of language.  The movie is also a good resource for remembering the rule governing “farther” versus “further.”

Finding Forrester, released in 2000, was directed by Gus Van Sant, who also directed Good Will Hunting.  The entertainment site IMDB notes that the two movies essentially have the same plot:  “An underprivileged youth is discovered by a reclusive genius and is shepherded to his full potential. What GWH was to math, this film is to literature.”  If you haven’t seen it, or seen it lately, it’s worth watching or watching again.

Sean Connery plays a reclusive Pulitzer-prize winning author who very begrudgingly befriends a teenaged basketball player.  As it turns out, the teen, who hangs out on city streets, is interested in writing.

Jamal Wallace, played by Rob Brown, manages to get in to an elite private school on a basketball scholarship.  There is immediate tension between Jamal and his haughty English professor.

One day in class, the professor says to Jamal, “Perhaps your skills do reach farther than basketball.”

Jamal replies, “Further.”

“What?”

A student tries to stop Jamal from challenging the professor.  Jamal continues, “You said that my skills reached ‘farther’ than basketball. ‘Farther’ relates to distance, ‘further’ is a definition of degree. You should have said ‘further.’”

Great scene.  Good lesson.

I have plenty of friends and colleagues with whom I have debated “farther” versus “further.”  Some claim the two are completely interchangeable.  There are some sources that support that claim but sufficiently more that explain the distinction.  “Farther” applies to an advancement in physical distance while “further” means to a greater degree.  “Further” also applies to an advancement of time or figurative distance, e.g., to take the discussion a bit further.  It is also used as a verb, such as to further one’s education, as well as an adverb to mean additionally.

A colleague once told me she just doesn’t like “farther” so always uses “further.”

I am always puzzled when people just plain do not like a word and deem it better to use incorrectly a different word in its place. 

With the exception of profanity, there really are no bad words.  Every word has its purpose.  The key is to know the purpose and to use the word correctly. 

There are several examples of word rules I have trouble remembering.

Maybe one day there will be a movie that helps me with “bring” versus “take.”

6 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Movies, Television and Radio

6 responses to “Further study

  1. …or between “bring” and “fetch”.

  2. deirdre

    Please add fewer and less as well as utilize and use to the list.

    • You got it. Fewer versus less is a no-brainer. But I will definitely do utilize versus use as that one too has taken me into debate. I may also do “more than” versus “over” and “less/fewer than” versus “under.” Example: Over 4 billion [hamburgers] sold. For shame.

  3. Michelle Strier

    So what is the line between verbal laziness and an “accepted” meaning making its way into the OED? For instance, the word momentarily, which I always understood to mean “for a moment” rather than “in a moment” (and is the reason I giggle when a flight attendant says we will be landing momentarily, as I picture the plane touching ground only to lift off again). I understand that the latter definition is accepted now. Is my irritation at this one unfounded?

    • Not unfounded at at all. In fact, I addressed this very subject in a blog post on April 21st, using a similar example. Or perhaps that is what prompted your comment. I pointed out that some official sources have just given up. That is unacceptable. We must unite in standing up in opposition to these offenses.

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