There it was, glaring out from the middle of the page like the cadaver of a New York City cockroach lying legs-up in the middle of a bowl of freshly-whipped heavy cream. The writer had misused the word further:

The bowling ball with the teflon coating traveled further down the track than did the conventional ball.

Just to be certain, I clicked on Words and Expressions Commonly Misused, a chapter of the exquisitely informational yet sublimely brief The Elements of Style. Lo and behold, I Strunk out! "Further" wasn't there, neither was farther.

To worsen matters, Webster 1913 opined primarily, that the words "further" and "farther" were essentially interchangeable. For heaven's sake how long ago could it have been that I'd read a marvelous piece by William Safire in The New York Times Magazine which specifically pointed out that the word "further" was being misused more and more often. Had Safire been in my town at that time, I'd have literally ran miles just to visit his hotel room, shake his hand in thanks and hug him. Thank goodness Mr. Safire's location was at that time unknown to me. Suffice it to say he was farther away than I could drive to see him, much less run.

Oh, how often in business meetings do we hear "this project is just in the planning stages, the implementation phase is much further down the pike." No, no, no.

This project is just in the planning stages, the implementation phase is much farther down the pike. Further analysis of market research will be necessary before expenditures and efforts are made to take the campaign national.

Now, that's more like it.

The explanation for the difference between our beloved turn-of-the-century dictionary and modern usage was pointed out by

Further relates to a metaphor for distance or depth. It's an unquantifiable time, degree or quantity. It also means "additional," or "more."

Farther relates to a conceivably measurable distance, a point on a finite scale, or even a hypothetically exaggerated distance:

  • Sinatra topped the charts most often; Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. next, with Perry Como farther behind, a distant fourth with only six top-ten hits.

  • Cars of equal make, model and accessories traveled up to one mile farther on a gallon of gasoline containing the additive "Extrol."

  • Jeremy's peculiarly large penis made the other Abercrombie models jealous; if he didn't wear briefs, it would hang farther than the limits of even the most generously-sized shorts.

I found Mr. Safire's article, "Simpsonese" in the "On Language" column of The New York Times, September 18, 1994 here. I've reprinted the relevant portion below:

"The aim of NATO's future expansion," the Clinton Administration's National Security Council staff writes in its strategy statement, "will not be to draw a new line in Europe further east, but to expand stability, democracy," etc.

Quoting this line in a recent polemic, I put a [sic] — the Latin word for "so, thus" to mean "error in the original" — after further. That's because the word for distance is farther, and the word for degree or expressing a sense of "beyond" is further. Furthermore (only say "farthermore" in the Situation Room), you can use further to mean either degree or metaphoric distance, but you should use farther only for physical distance.

UPDATE 12/19/2007: I changed the example sentence at the beginning of this writeup to a more overt example of the improper use of "further" than my original, which I concede was confusing.

maxclimb wrote: " Fowler's Modern English Usage points out that futher is 'the comparative of fore' indicating 'more advanced' and that farther is a variant of further but that the perceived connection to far leads to the notion of 'more distant'. He points out that most people use one OR the other in all cases. He concludes by stating that as a verb, further wins hands down. One of my pet bits of usage trivia as well.

hapax insists, however, that the terms are interchangeable freely, and agrees with Webster 1913.





I agree with Safire, which (I think) may be in conflict with your criticism of the billboard-charts recap.

As you quote, Safire wrote that "you can use further to mean either degree or metaphoric distance". That's precisely what's being done in this quote:

"Sinatra topped the charts most often; Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr.Perry Como further behind, a distant fourth with only six top-ten hits."

The concept of distance is a metaphor for chart ranking. We see it repeated in your second example:

 "This project is just in the planning stages, the implementation phase is much further down the pike."

Here again distance is being used as a metaphor, in this case for time. Because it would be possible to use a different metaphor in the same sentence, it makes sense (to me) to follow what Safire recommends. Adhere to 'farther' only when comparing physical distances. Use 'further' for certain when describing degree. And (my own personal rule, allowed by the esteemed Safire): also use 'further' when comparing metaphorical distances.

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