In last night’s 60 Minutes segment on Jeff Bezos and Amazon, Charlie Rose described the way Amazon workers pick and pack items:
Those bins eventually wind up in front of a packer, who knows exactly how big of a box to use based on the weight and amount of items . . . .Elaine and I said it simultaneously: number.
The Chicago Manual of Style explains the distinction:
Amount is used with mass nouns [a decrease in the amount of pollution], number with count nouns [a growing number of dissidents].And there’s another problem: “big of a box.” Sheesh. That’s an instance of what Garner’s Modern American Usage calls “intrusive of,” as in “not that big of a deal.” Corrected:
Those bins eventually wind up in front of a packer, who knows exactly how big a box to use based on the weight and number of items . . . .But the more I look at this sentence, the more ungainly it becomes. The phrasing — “exactly how big a box to use based on” — is just awkward. And there is a weird asymmetry in what follows, with weight applying to the items collectively; number, individually. And is number the issue anyway? Isn’t the size of an item the crucial element in choosing a box? One more time:
Those bins eventually wind up in front of a packer, who knows which box suits the size and weight of an order . . . .That’s better, with size and weight referring perhaps to a single item, perhaps to items in the aggregrate. But simpler still:
Those bins eventually wind up in front of a packer, who knows the right box to use for each order . . . .Because what basis is there for choosing a box other than the size and weight of the order? The word right takes care of everything.
And before I change the channel: has there ever been an interviewer more worshipful of power and wealth than Charlie Rose? Last night’s interview was an embarrassment, partly for its lack of pointed questions, partly for its uncritical delight in the prospect of drone deliveries (it’ll help to live next to a big empty field), partly for its blatantly commercial timing (on Cyber-Monday Eve). Boo, hiss, CBS.
Charlie Rose and David Foster Wallace
Charlie Rose, The Week
All How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)
[This post is no. 47 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]