Stop using 'Let Alone' Incorrectly

The phrase ‘let alone’ is frequently used in English to illustrate the outrageousness of a thing.

“I went to the Statue of Liberty, but couldn’t walk up the stairs into the pedestal, let alone to the crown.”
“The doctor said I should exercise, but I can’t get off the couch even once a week, let alone every day.”

Lately I’ve been seeing it used backward. Just today I encountered this in reference to US elections:

“it’s very early to be talking about 2024, let alone 2022”

That sentence doesn’t even make sense, let alone make a good point. The whole reason we use ‘let alone’ is to say, “Don’t even talk about that (let it alone) because we have this more immediate concern that eclipses it”. The line I quoted is saying we shouldn’t even be talking about 2022 because it’s too early to even be talking about 2024! What absurdity! What confusion! And I am noticing this more frequently.

I know, I know, we don’t even agree on the rules of English, let alone have a real standard.

But, this is the hill I die on. Stop it. All you have to do is get your phraseology in the right order. Otherwise I will not stop yelling, let alone agree it’s ok.

I am really upset with myself when I get this wrong. Usually it’s when spoken, where it’s easy to trip up and is already too late by the time it’s said, whereas with written I can correct it before posting. But the point is, sometimes I do suspect I messed up, and have to stop and think about it to make sure it’s right.

I’m generally a pretty staunch descriptivist, even though my personal instincts are usually prescriptivist. I’ve, reluctantly, accepted “I could care less” as an idiom that doesn’t make sense literally but still conveys the intended meaning. But I think I may join you on this hill. That usage you’re citing isn’t just prescriptively incorrect, it’s far worse - it’s confusing, and fails to clearly convey the intended meaning.

I can’t be bothered to use ‘much less’ correctly much less ’ let alone.’

Did I use much less correctly here, beats me.

I literally could care less. I just choose not to.

Exactly. We know that when somebody says, “I could care less” they actually mean, “I couldn’t care less” and it’s unambiguous. When somebody uses “literally” when they don’t literally mean “literally” it’s usually clear from context. When somebody switches the order of “let alone” it’s just confusing. What did you really mean? So no, this must not happen.

Simple workaround: DON’T USE IT!

Noone literally cares about you’re use of let alone alot!

See what these bad grammars lead us too.

100% agree with you. In fact, I think this is a great example of how descriptivists can call something an error. When I read Tofor’s post, I was expecting to be all sneery descriptivist about how people nitpick foolishly; but then I came to that sample sentence about the 2022 election, and I was all, “what the fuck?” and read it three or four times before giving up and reading the rest of the post.

It was only when I read the rest (and reread the preceding sentence) that I realized that my reaction was exactly what tofor was talking about: the sentence was super confusing and didn’t communicate what the author intended at all. I’m finding even now, I can’t remember the sentence’s contents without going back to reread it, because it’s so backwards, and my brain keeps flipping the order to make it make sense.

We call lots of things errors. We just usually tack some sort of qualifier on.

But I’m with the OP on this, too. I saw it used backwards the other day (can’t recall where) and thought Well, that’s dumb.

I tend to think of that as just as a consonant cluster being dropped in speech, which then made its way into writing. Saying dntk all at once, even with the elongated n sound, is not the easiest.

I still don’t know what your example sentence in the OP actually means. Did they just accidentally say the two years backwards? Did they think we actually should talk about 2022 instead? Heck, was it an actual logical error, arguing that, since it’s very early to talk about 2024, it therefore is also too early to talk about 2022? Or even just a deliberately confusing statement?

Yeah, I’m an ardent descriptivist but I never say that anything goes. Some thing’s are just wrong.

My Grammar lives in Alabama, y’all.

It wasn’t confusing at all to me. The term “let alone” means if example A is something to avoid, then we should definitely avoid B which is worse. “Don’t jump off your house, let alone a bridge,” is sensible because jumping off a bridge is more extreme than jumping off your house. It’s folk wisdom; if you know that jumping off your house is dangerous then you should definitely know jumping off a bridge is bad. Let’s say that a person who fell off their roof and broke their leg two years ago is talking about BASE jumping off a nearby bridge, then you can use their own experience to show them why they are taking too great a risk. It’s particularly useful in a discussion if someone has previously acknowledged how one thing is inadvisable, you can use that to your advantage in the discussion.

So in the example given by tofor, they are saying it’s too early to talk about 2024, let alone 2022, which is backwards. Because you can’t say that if it’s too early to talk about 2024 then it’s definitely too early to talk about 2022. That’s a logical fallacy based on the fact that 2022 is 2 years earlier than 2024. It only makes sense to talk about it the other way around; to say that if you acknowledge that it is too early to talk about 2022, then it is definitely too early to talk about 2024 which is even further away.

Does that make sense? I hope that was coherent and not too rambly.

The problem with that one is that sometimes, it isn’t clear from context. For instance, I recently complained about a drop-down list on a web form that had over 8000 entries in it. If I say “the drop-down box had literally 8000 entries in it”, it sounds like I’m just being hyperbolic, but I’m not: That’s actually how many it had (8,042, to be precise). And I don’t know how to convey that meaning, if the word that’s supposed to mean “I’m not being hyperbolic” isn’t interpreted as meaning that.

Try “actually-really-truly”.

You’re right, of course, but I maintain " let alone" abuse is worse.

I’m fairly certain it was a brain fart or simple transcription mistake in this case and they simply reversed the numbers, but it was an excellent example of a trend I’ve noticed.

I’m with the OP. This is totally inverting the meaning of “let alone.”

The normal word I would expect to make that clear would be “exactly.” However, you apparently don’t mean that there are exactly 8000 entries. I asume you meant to say “There are literally over 8000 entries,” which I don’t think is ambiguous.

That said, there are other words that would sound more natural to my ears: “There are genuinely over 8000 entries.” And, even then, the word “genuinely” is being used for emphasis. You could probably just say “There are over 8000 entries.”

In general, I can’t think of any situation where you couldn’t replace literally with another word to make the meaning clear. The general rule is that “literally” only means “hyperbolically” when the thing being described unlikely to be literal. And, in situations where you need to say that something that sounds hyperbolic is actually literally true, words like “actually” or “genuinely” will work.

This is literally the tardiest thread let alone the dumber.

I like having an excuse (no matter how flimsy) to post this: