Wednesday 22 September 2010

Farther and Further

There's a scene towards the end of Ubik by Philip K. Dick*, in which the hero, Joe, is dying on a staircase.

'Feel any better?' Pat asked.
'No,' he said. And, getting halfway up, lunged onto the next step.
'You look different. Not so upset.'
Joe said, 'Because I can make it. I know that.'
'It's not much further,' Pat agreed.
'Farther,' he corrected.
'You're incredible. So trivial, so small. Even in your own death spasms you-' She corrected herself, catlike and clever. 'Or what probably seem subjectively to you as death spasms. I shouldn't have used the term "death spasms." It might depress you.'

Just so you know, dear and careful reader, farther is generally used for physical distance and further for metaphorical distance. If you are curious about the city beyond the mountains you must travel farther to investigate further.

Onward and upward

*Just read it. Terribly good fun. And, weirdly, this post isn't really a spoiler.


  1. "further" and "farther" are about as equally common when referring to physical distance

  2. Where I call home "farther" and "further" are used in the context Inkyfool has least by people with correct grammar!

  3. I agree with eleus. This is what I have been taught at school as well, with English as a second language. One seems to remember rules for foreign languages better than the rules for one's mother tongue.

    While typing this, I am wondering why it is 'mother tongue' and 'fatherland'... Who decided which part of home is mother's and which is father's?

  4. Misunderstanding

    Me to my boyfriend, who was reading a Philip K Dick novel in bed: "What's your Dick called"?

    Boyfriend, looking at me as if I am mad, or perverse: "Ummmm, it doesn't have a name..."

  5. Whereas my schoolteacher (admittedly 50 years ago, so God rest her soul) held that "farther" was an affectation used by people who felt that "further" was too common. The etymology in Chambers implies that "farther" is indeed a variant of a common root that wrongly came to be thought of as a variant of "far".

    I generally support a preferance for usage over etymology, although it seems unusual to have different variants for the literal and metaphorical meanings and I'd be interested in evidence.