The Grammarphobia Blog

The “some” also rises

Q: Could you please weigh in on the recent trend of inserting “some” before precise numbers rather than estimates? For example, “The report was some 158 pages long.” It seems to have really caught on among the cable news outlets.

A: This strikes me as a silly way for a talking head to talk. The word “some” used with a number means approximately, so it should go with an estimate, not an exact number.

No one would say, “The report was approximately 158 pages long.” There’s nothing approximate about an exact number; a round number like 150 or 160 perhaps, but not 158.

So, cable news people, don’t use “some” with a number if you wouldn’t use “approximately” with it!

A cable guy who speaks this way has apparently been given precise information, but doesn’t want to be held responsible if it’s not right. So he decides to hedge his bet and insert “some” to make it look like an estimate!

By the way, the use of “some” to make an approximation has been around since Anglo-Saxon days.

The Oxford English Dictionary has a reference from King Alfred’s Boethius circa 888 (“some ten years”), as well as one from Studs Terkel in 1980 (“sixty-some contestants “).

Now, that’s quite a long time – some 1,100 years!

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