Arnold Zwicky at the Log has a post about “inflectional (commoner) vs. periphrastic (more common) comparatives and superlatives,” a topic on which there is a huge literature; it was sparked off by a correspondent who asked whether commoner shouldn’t be more common (adding, winningly, “I ask, fully expecting to be proven incorrect”), and Zwicky quite properly chastises “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.” He goes on to provide an astonishing anecdote:
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 ! “
As Zwicky says, “It is to weep.”
And to my American readers: Happy Thanksgiving! We’re eating at my stepson’s house this afternoon, which means my wife doesn’t have to do a lot of cooking and the cats can doze in peace.