Commoner and Cleverer

I just read a Language Log post on the recurring debates about whether the “Xer” comparative form of various adjectives is correct, or whether one has to say “more X.” The post is in general quite worth reading, but here’s a particular passage that I was quite amused by:

Back in August 2005, Jon Lighter reported on ADS-L about Fox News anchor E. D. Hill, who maintained vehemently, on camera, that cleverer was not a word. Later she stated on air that a colleague had found it in a dictionary, so it was after all a word. But then (as Lighter wrote),

… in a surprising twist that left linguists in the viewing audience reeling, minutes before the show ended, Hill laughed as she said, “We’ve received an email from a viewer [name unintelligible] who has a doctorate, and she writes as follows : ” ‘Cleverer’ is not a word. It is not a verb and cannot be declined or inflected.’ ” Hill concluded, “So I was right all along ! It’s not a word ! “

It is to weep.

By the way, Google Books makes it easier than ever before to get a sense of whether particular words — such as “cleverer” — were in fact used commonly (and not just occasionally) by great past authors, which is probably a pretty good proxy for whether they were commonly used in educated writing more broadly.

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