James L., in a comment on Mark Liberman's "Concerning" posting:
"The second thing to say is that it's commoner in spoken registers…"
Shouldn't that be "more common"? I ask, fully expecting to be proven incorrect.
Every so often on Language Log we discuss inflectional (commoner) vs. periphrastic (more common) comparatives and superlatives, and the topic has come up again and again on ADS-L and sci.lang, often in response to someone's claim that some particular inflectional form X is just wrong.
Sometimes the claim rests on a belief in One Right Way, in this case the assumption that an adjective or adverb takes inflection or periphrasis, but not both as alternatives. If you also judge X to be not what you would say, then it must be wrong and the periphrastic variant must be right.
Even if you don't subscribe to One Right Way, you might still project your personal dislike of X onto others.
In every case I've seen where a complaint about X has been lodged, it turns out that X is attested, in fact attested in serious writing, and in many cases X is also listed in reputable dictionaries. Both things are true for commoner.
There are two sets of cases, not always crisply distinguished. In the first set, X is relatively rare but nevertheless attested. Geoff Pullum looked at some examples of this sort a while back. He noted that the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language included the monosyllabic adjectives cross, ill, and real in a list of lexical items lacking inflectional comparatives and superlatives, but on reflection that judgment seemed wrong; things like realer are not very common, but they are attested in careful writing.
Somewhat later, Ben Zimmer mentioned in passing some items that evoke "grey-area judgments", with some speakers having no problem with inflectional variants, judging both variants to be acceptable; other speakers having a preference for one of the variants, while allowing both; and still others having trouble making judgments. The items he mentioned were the adverb often and the adjectives common (yes, common) and pleasant — all with well-attested inflectional variants for comparison, variants listed in NOAD2.
This posting of Ben's was about stricter, which a Language Log reader had been told (by an editor at the newspaper our correspondent worked for) was "not a word". Ben observed that this is spectacularly not so, and went on to look at vaster and fonder as well.
A bit later, Ben took up bitterest, which a letter to a Guardian editor had labeled an error.
So it goes. 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.
I have many more cases in my files.
I'm not denying that there are people who dislike, sometimes strongly, certain inflectional variants. They're welcome not to use them. But they shouldn't be insisting that other people have to do as they do.