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More is More than Less, but No More

Ari Appel

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I find that people will often evoke adages when they have no specific evidence, so appeals to a common ethos. If the listener genuinely agrees with the cultural value being referenced, there is nothing delusive about this strategy. However, adages can seem to escape the need for evaluation simply because they are commonly used. But, overuse doesn’t constitute correctness. Below are a two adages that I think many would not agree with under close examination.

“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you”

This encourages complacency. It says, “Do not disobey who’s in charge, because if you do, they might stop being nice to you.” With this attitude, the worker doesn’t seek better conditions, the abusive relationships continues, and the whistle-blower keeps her mouth shut.

Use: Origin unknown. Use has been on the rise since the beginning of the 20th century.

Who says it: Feudal lords and Cesar Millan

“Less is more”

By equating opposites, “less is more” tries to give itself a clever ring, but there is nothing clever about it. It wants to say that “less is better,” which implies that better and more are synonyms, i.e., its own fallacy. If more were to actually mean better, then “less is more” would be false, because less would be the opposite of better. Aside from its logical inconsistency, the adage implies that less is only preferable on this one occasion, while more is written in stone as better. The truth is that there is no intrinsic positive connotation to the word more. For example, “more pain and suffering.”

The positive connotation of more without additional context has been exaggerated by advertising. 50% More, FREE! Buy 1, Get 1 Free! This type of marketing assumes that everyone wants more stuff, more money and more in general. By equating more and better, “less is more” inadvertently concedes to the rhetoric of a culture that overvalues quantity.

Neither is less more, nor is more less. More is more, less is less, and which one is better depends upon the situation.

Use: The phrase first appeared in a poem by Robert Browning in 1855, but did not become widely used until coined by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in the 1950s, from which point its popularity has been rapidly increasing. As a minimalist, Mies equated more with better sarcastically to critique other architects for establishing complexity as an ideal. The phrase has since lost its sarcastic touch, and now simply suggests that “less is better.”

Who says it: Too many people

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Whitman news since 1896
More is More than Less, but No More