Same grammar, less metonymy


A “bad grammar award” has been given to Tesco, for the label that appears on its toilet-roll packaging:

“Same luxury, less lorries”

The grammarati insist that “less lorries” should be “fewer lorries”, because “lorries” is a count noun and not a mass noun. Others argue that the less/fewer distinction, despite the best efforts of those who love it, has been widely ignored for centuries and that this is a matter of formal vs informal language, not correct vs incorrect.

I have a different objection: the critics are missing the point of the slogan.

Do you care how many lorries were involved in the transportation of a toilet roll? Of course you don’t, and Tesco didn’t imagine for a second that you might.

The point is that Tesco claims to be reducing the amount of motorised haulage involved – maybe it sources its toilet rolls locally, or has them delivered by bicycle, or packages them more compactly – and thereby reducing its greenhouse emissions (and the traffic on the road).

For example: if ten lorries drive ten miles each, that’s greener than having one lorry driving 1000 miles – even though there are more lorries. What matters is the amount of driving.

Tesco is using “lorries” as a more concrete, vivid way of saying “haulage” or “transportation”. This is an example of metonymy, like “the pen is mightier than the sword” or “keep your eye on it”.

To be honest, I find “less lorries” inelegant; I have many of the same linguistic tastes as the grammarati. But the world is full of inelegant marketing slogans, and this is a tame example to single out for special derision.

And in any case, “fewer lorries” would have pushed the reader far more strongly towards a literal interpretation, because the important things that it’s reducing – haulage and thereby pollution and congestion – are all mass-noun concepts.

Image from Lesley Morrissey

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  • Gavin Esmond Hodgkinson  On May 2, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    Humbug! That is a grossly naive miscalculation, Sir. Ten lorries that drive ten miles each are not greener than one lorry driving 1000 miles. The fewer lorries built, the better. That is a chief factor. Goodness knows how much iron ore, water, oil, etc. goes into the production of a lorry. They should have said “less pollution”. Otherwise, I understand the point you’re making. Furthermore, I look up to you, find your writings excellent and recommend you to friends, colleagues and students. Keep up the good work!

  • Richard Nield  On May 2, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Although I find that advertising slogans such as this (and there are many that use less/few incorrectly) do jar, in this case the imposition of grammatical correctness would also sacrifice some of the phrase’s alliterative qualities


  • By Metonymy Examples | Zahal IDF Blog News on May 7, 2014 at 1:28 am

    […] were a few metonymy examples that are used in literature to change the mode of though by using a strong word association. […]

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