Today, a little rant in service to an attempt to quash one of the more irritating errors seen on the internet: the inversion of the proper order of “much less” phrases.
“Much less” phrases appear in sentences such as: “The CIA can’t tell you who’s really running the Egyptian protests, much less control their outcome”, or “Obama won’t reopen the Gulf to drilling, let alone push for exploration in ANWR”. The pattern is “blah blah blah not A, much less B”, where B is a more extreme version of A. In effect, you’re saying: “A can’t happen, and if A can’t happen, B certainly can’t happen.”
It’s pretty common (common enough to prompt me to complain about it) for people to flop the proper order of A and B, which makes the sentence a gibberish. If you say : “B can’t happen, and if B can’t happen, A certainly can’t happen”, the obvious answer is: “Why not? A is less extreme than B, so why does B’s impossibility have any bearing on A?”
We all make mistakes, but sometimes I get the feeling that some people just don’t know how this one is supposed to work. Which is why I’m here to help.