Friday, June 03, 2005

Fun with language

The front page of today's Wall Street Journal has a piece on the increasing numbers of books that are returned to publishers when they don't sell. Quote:
In 2003, 34% of adult hardcover books were returned to publishers...That's more than one in three adult hardcover books that publishers edit, print, distribute, and market.
What I find odd about this sentence is its failure to distinguish between two different meanings of the word "book": the abstract intellectual-property sense in which a book is a long string of words (the entity that is edited and marketed), versus the individual, physical copy of the book (the entity that is printed and distributed and possibly returned.) The distinction is important here, because 34% of the physical copies is not the same as 34% of the published titles. It reminds me of this post from the great blog Language Log, which gives this example of the same phenomenon:
The Cambridge Grammar is careful in its scholarship and eleven pounds in weight.

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