Better “than” than “then”

Every now and then I come across writing that really hits a nerve. One particular mistake is the misleading use of “then” instead of “than.”  For example, in this week’s Bucknellian the editorial is particularly poorly written.  Here is the incorrect use of “then.”

“Most students do not drink by themselves, and more often then not they are encouraged by their peers to engage in heavy drinking.”  The Bucknellian 152.1 Sept. 6, 2013.

As I tell my students, the effective writer understands that attentive readers will, at least early on, trust the writer not to mislead them.  They will pick up on clues the writer gives, anticipating where the writer is going.  In the case of the editorial quoted above, the “more often then not” is ambiguous. I read “more often then not” and I trust the writer to mean “then,” in which case the logical meaning would be something along the lines of “more often, then not [so often].” Of course, from the larger context it is obvious that the writer intended “more often than not.”

I don’t look at this as being picky.  After all, at first I’m assuming the writer intends to use the words he uses, and intends to say something a little more nuanced than the obvious. Else why bother writing it, why bother reading it?

By the time I got to the sentence where the editorialist uses the word “fair” to mean “fare,” he’s lost me.  A colleague of mine puts it this way: Don’t piss off your reader。

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