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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Not as in the perfectly acceptable "16 is a multiple of 2."

No, the new use of "multiple" as a careless synonym for "many."

As in today's New York Times, in a story about Steven Sinofsky, late of Microsoft:

"He answered questions from the audience and then left the resort, according to multiple people who were present."

"Multiple people"?

This is not permissible.

The writer was careless. And more careless were the copy-editors who are supposed to catch barbarisms. But how can they, given the kind of education, the kind of attitude toward language, that those who now do those jobs. by their laxness or indifference, exhibit?

Posted on 11/14/2012 10:16 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
14 Nov 2012

"Multiple people" is bad for the same reason that "two people" is bad, but "multiple eyewitnesses" would have been just fine.  "Multiple" in this sense is a more emphatic synonym for "several" and is certainly not interchangeable with "many."

14 Nov 2012
Hugh Fitzgerald

No, you are wrong. "Multiple people" is not wrong for "the same reason": that "two people" is wrong. "Two people" and "three people" are not nearly as wrong, if they are wrong at all. I'm willing to accept "there were three people in the room." You're not? 

The problem with "multiple" is that it should be used only when those of which there are mutliples are identical. For example, I could write -- I wouldn't, but I could -- that many years ago I bought "multiple copies" of Pale Fire. Or that I bought "multiple copies" of Alan Coren's The Collected Bulletins of Idi Amin. That's because each copy of Pale Fire was identical to the other copies, and the same was true for the Collected Bulletins. [I note, by the way, that in one of their recent acts, Bird and Fortune use, for the fake African dictator, a lot of phrases lifted from those Collected Bulletins of Idi Amin -- what do they take us for? Do they think we've all forgotten what Alan Coren wrote when he was doing his Idi Amin? They should give credit, loud and clear].

"Many eyewitnesses" is fine. "Multiple eyewitnesses" is not. They are not identical, as copies of a book may be. You've simply read, or heard, the unacceptable phrase "multiple eyewitnesses" and familiarity has bred, as it usually does, not, pace the proverb, contempt, but rather acceptance. Just the way, I might add, that having Muslims appearing on radio and television is part of causing unwary unvigilant non-Muslims to become inured to, rather than permanently disturbed by and unaccepting of, their presence.

14 Nov 2012
Josephine Taters (pronounced tah-tays)

Many orgasms? Not quite the same feel as multiple.

14 Nov 2012
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