Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Monday Mechanics. Well, actually it is the first episode. Or quite possibly the only episode. Only time will tell! So stick with me while I pull up my well-used and much-loved soapbox.
One word more than almost any other will turn my stomach and make me rethink my decision to read a particular book, article, or correspondence: Countless. It is in many of my favorite books and stories. It exists four times in the first 1,500 pages of the Game of Thrones. Lestat uses it to describe things in The Vampire Lestat and I’m fairly certain that Louis used it a few times in the preceding Vampire Chronicle. It is akin to the misuse of the pronoun “I” in my list of words that make my skin crawl.
For one thing, nothing is countless. If it is a substance that can be numbered, it can be counted. You may not be able to count that high, but someone can. You may have to go to work and take a break from counting flowers on the wall. You may lose your place while counting the stars. But they can be counted. Take my word for it. It would take a concerted and well-choreographed effort between scientists across the universe, but it could be done.
Having said that, is there anything wrong with the word countless? Not really, I say hesitantly. Other than it feels rather sloppy and rushed. Each word counts. Each word provides an opportunity to nourish the starving, offer a branch to the reader plummeting over a crevasse of mass-market verbiage. Don’t let those moments zip passed!
And if you are counting them, they are “numbers”, by the way, not “amounts.” Amounts are measured. Rod Stewart had the right of it when he said “My love for you is immeasurable, my respect for you immense.” And Javert used restraint when he implied that the stars, while we do not know how many they are, still have a number, though they are “scarce to be counted.”
So, should you find yourself tempted by the word countless, borrow one of these options instead, depending on the way you are planning to use it. Okay, so a couple of these may have been used only by Clark Ashton Smith or H.P. Lovecraft, but what can ya do? I’m a sucker for arcane language.
• Seemingly infinite
• Scarce to be counted (or numbered)
• Without end