Your Queries Answered

AuthorNeil Guthrie
chapter four
our uerie nsere
This book originated as a series of emails and then as a blog, and
readers have sent questions on miscellaneous points, which are
gathered here. (And I’ve invented a couple of queries, just to round
things out.)
So, since you asked . . .
What’s with “Esquire”? Does it have some special meaning in law?
In mediæval England, an esquire was one rank above a gentleman
and one below a knight; hence the variant squire for a trainee knight.
While the precise class of chaps eligible to be an esquire is a
matter of intense historical controversy, it seems that you had to
be the younger son of a nobleman, the son or grandson of a knight,
or an oce-holder (possibly including a barrister-at-law). By the
eighteenth century, Esquire came to be used as a polite substitute
for Mister on an envelope (and the older use of Gent, after a name,
faded away). This usage persists in the United Kingdom and more
traditional parts of the Commonwealth.
Americans used to use Esquire in the same way, but by about
(I’m guessing here) the 1940s, it was replaced by just plain Mister
on envelopes, except in diplomatic and legal circles (conservative,
those). By about the 1970s, only lawyers were using it. As a result,
Esquire came to be viewed as synonymous with “attorney” and
second-wave feminists who entered the legal profession wanted to
be able to use it, like their male peers. (Like women barristers and
judges in England, who adopted the masculine wigs that their male
Guthrie's Guide to Better Legal Writing
counterparts have been wearing since the eighteenth century.) To
someone in the United Kingdom today, however, Susan Jones, Esq
looks as bizarre as Ms Neil Guthrie would.
Can I begin a sentence with “And” or “But”?
Contrary to what Mrs Snelgrove told you in grade 7, yes. But do it
sparingly, for ef‌fect.
You can also start a sentence with Because, in constructions like
this: Because I forgot to set my alarm, I was late for the client meeting.
How many spaces after the period at the end of a sentence?
One or two?
You’ve got time on your hands if you’re fussing about this!
In the days of the Smith-Corona manual typewriter, two spaces
were de rigueur. In the digital age, one seems to be the norm.
What’s the dif‌ference between “farther” and “further,” and “less”
and “fewer”?
Less and fewer are straightforward (although frequently confused).
Use less for things you can measure (money, time, substances), fewer
for things you can count (people, objects).
Example: There are fewer people around in the summer, so there are
fewer cars downtown and less trac.
NEVER say less people. Grammar nerds appear to be divided on
whether one should use less or fewer when dealing with percentages,
with the preponderance favouring less.1
The precise dif‌ference between farther and further is hard to pin
down, and the two words can be (and are) used more or less inter-
changeably. The consensus among language mavens is that farther is
best used for actual distances, further where distance is conceptual
or not part of the equation at all.
1 See Patricia T O’Connor & Stewart Kellerman, “When Fewer Is Less” Gram-
marphobia (21 March 2014), online:

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