Sunday, December 30, 2007

Farther versus Further

Farther and further are closely related and, for most of their linguistic lives, have been interchangeable. And yet, they remained two distinct words. One supposes that it was for a reason.

Over time, the meanings have diverged slightly. Further means the same sorts of things that it always did—moreover, more so, in addition, deeper (as “in debt” or “in trouble”), as well, to advance (your education, my theory), and similar measures of degree or quantity.

Further can be used to indicate distance, though it is more often used to mean deeper, as above, or in some other way to indicate not a physical distance but a more abstract or hypothetical space. Thus, you couldn't be further from the truth, even if you're sitting on it.

Farther has come to indicate a physical distance. You can be farther down the road, farther from the heart of things, and farther up a tree. Think of farther as the comparative for far (farthest being, of course, the superlative). You can't do that with further, no matter what your feelings on animal rights.

Shockingly enough, I've wandered from my point again. Let's redirect this runaway train.

Use farther when you are talking about actual, physical distance. Use further to indicate an increase in less measurable characteristics. Use furthermore to replace in addition or moreover, if you like to use words of more than ten letters. That was as far as I meant to go, and no further.

This constitutes my 198th post on this blog. I'm considering doing something exciting for my 200th, like posting a picture or even a YouTube video, but the thought of all of that color and movement makes me nervous. If you've any suggestions for something you'd like to see here, please let me know.