Exercice de Style:


A  very pet peeve. So pet, in fact, that I may have complained about it before, if not, I trust, in this column.

At The Awl, Dave Bry concludes one of his mortifying but compulsively-readable apologies by assuring the musician, Bob Mould,

I’m different than that now.

<Screech of grating chalk!>

“Different than” is the most ill-tutored solecism that I know of that does not involve the misuse of a personal pronoun.

This was what got Tim and I started.

I’m always astonished to hear this sort of thing from smart, presumably educated people. (In this case, Matt Thompson at Snarkmarket.)

Whereas the misuse of personal pronouns appears to be strongly linked to socio-economic background (yet another reason to shun it), different than has not been as strenuously weeded out in the better schools. It places speakers in the class not of rich or poor but of inattentive.

For an adverb, such as than, to have a function in this formulation, the adjective that it modifies must be a comparative, so that the adverb can point to a  difference in the degree to which the adjectival quality obtains.

He is smarter and better-looking than I am.


He is smart and good-looking than I am.

Similarly, we might say,

You are more different than I am.

(If this sounds wrong, it’s only because we prefer to use unusual when making comparisons about personal singularity.)

Without the comparative, there is nothing for an adverb to do in Mr Bry’s sentence; at the same time, there is the need for a preposition — from — to mark the distance, literal or figurative, between two states or things.

The curious thing is that, to reflect his thought more clearly (if less modestly), the word that Mr Bry ought to change is not than but different.

I’m better than that now.

And perhaps his sense is betrayed by his mistake.

3 Responses to “Exercice de Style:

  1. Jean Ruaud says:

    Very interesting. Note taken!

  2. Fossil Darling says:

    What makes my blackboard grate is the mis-use of ‘good’ and ‘well,’ as in, “I played really good this week.” or “I hit the shot perfect.” What happened to ‘perfectly’? This mostly involves professional athletes, but still………

  3. nitasha says:

    actually, i think he was riffing off of bob dylan (“i’m younger than that now”). i read to me as though he knew it was grammatically incorrect. “i’m better than that now” would end the post on a very different–self-congratulatory note. he’s not saying he’s become a better person, only that he makes different mistakes. in both the song and the post, they’re looking back on their childhood with regret, but not necessarily saying they’ve grown into something better. dylan writes, “i was so much older then, i’m younger than that now.” i think mr. bry was just trying to twist the phrase readers might expect.