Most of you have seen the commercial; it’s hard to miss: Ford introducing its new line of hybrids. At the end of the commercial, below the Ford logo, this sentence pops onto the screen:
We’re talking cars now, especially vehicles that can travel from here to beyond the old there, because of their superior fuel efficiency. So it should be farther. Right? Do all of those smart people at Ford and their ad agency really not know the difference between farther and further, which I can’t imagine, or is this a nefarious plot to undermine the intelligence of the American people? I’ll get to that in a minute.
Back to the hybrids going . . . . At one time, farther and further were the same word. Over a few centuries, their meanings split. Farther mostly referred to “distance,” and further mostly referred to “quantity or degree.” “How much farther do we have to walk?” And “Upon further reflection, I agree.” But over the past few decades, further has crept back deeper into the domain of farther, even when referring to distance. However.
SUGGESTION #1: Sometimes, generations have to die before one word finally overtakes another as more acceptable. In the meantime, use the one we know is correct; and when we refer to distance, that’s still farther.
But maybe Ford meant that driving one of their hybrids would enhance our station in life, so they’re not measuring distance here but offering us a way to see ourselves in a new light at the wheel of a Ford hybrid. If that’s true, then further would be correct. Except a few years ago, Ford also ran a full-page magazine ad for the Ford Escape Hybrid with the tag line:
That means less trips to the gas station.
The only way I can explain this is that Ford used less instead of fewer (and further rather than farther) on purpose; that their ad agency wired the brains of thousands of focus folk to test their reaction to the correct usage of fewer and farther against the incorrect usage of less and further. Because Ford was chasing the “down” market, they discovered that the incorrect less and further appealed more to that group. (Why they would consider the hybrid shopper part of a “down” market is another issue.) So.
SUGGESTION #2: Yes, come down in your language; use words that average people understand; but whether you’re a huge corporation or an individual, never purposely use a word incorrectly because you fear your audience might resent your using the correct word. That only contributes to the dumbing down of America.
Ford should travel the high road. It might not sell more cars, but neither would it sell fewer.