Farther in the future could I accept it being sung as Further Down?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/05/18 23:45 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2007/05/18/2724714.aspx


So a friend of mine was talking with me the other day. She mentioned that she has been reading my blog.

This stopped me for a minute as I had to adjust the universe a bit -- the people who read here know a whole lot about me that previously you would have had to move into some kind of romantic entanglement for. Which is okay, but it takes me a moment to adjust to realizing what they might know. :-)

Anyway, she had read the post I wrote about Michael Penn's No Myth. You know, this one. And she was wondering if I had ever covered the further/farther thing, as it applies to Matthew Sweet's song Farther Down.

I hadn't, although if you are reading this then you actually know that I have done so, and that you are reading it, right now. :-)

Now the theoretical difference between further and farther was exposed to a lot of people in the 2000 in the Salinger-esque movie Finding Forrester. In a particularly dramatic scene, Rob Brown corrects the usage of F. Murray Abraham:

You said my skills extend "farther" than the basketball court.
"Farther" relates to distance.
"Further" is a definition of degree.
You should have said "further."

Though to be honest the usage is not as clearly defined as all that -- and many dictionaries will only go so far as to claim this as a general tendency, since in even the formal world of English speaking folk, the lines are not always so sharply drawn.

You may not have heard the song before, unless you saw that movie with Jennifer Love Hewitt. You know, Can't Hardly Wait. A movie that had a lot of great music in it, most of which did not make it onto the soundtrack (though luckily this one did, since it never has shown up anywhere else).

Anyway, the song's lyrics:

Into you so far the words go,
so much clearer than you hear.
Into you goes everything I know;
no one else knows how I feel.

Farther down I'm desperate for you
where you never have to know.
Farther down I'm still without a clue
'Til something, something takes my pain away.

Only chance can change my fortune,
so I'm not sure why I try.
As if I could swim the ocean.
As if you could start to fly.

Farther down I'm desperate for you
where you never have to know.
Farther down I'm still without a clue.
'Til something, something takes my pain away.
Something takes my pain away.
Something takes my pain away.

Farther down I'm desperate for you
where you never have to know.
Farther down I'm still without a clue.
'Til something, something takes my pain away.
Something takes my pain away.
Something takes my pain away.
Something takes my pain away.

Now by using those strict theoretical distinctions, the word would clearly be further since we are clearly hearing about a metaphorical difference here. But even studies (e.g. this one, though there are others) tend to suggest that the real world distinction is not so clear, at least not in American English (the word farther does seem to be much less used in England and Australia, in general).

Though the initial line (Into you so far the words go) would be rather unbalanced if further was used as a follow-up to the bit talking about how far something had gone into someone.

So really either form is okay here, and in fact farther works a little better, conceptually.

The song itself is almost an exception to the rather annoying trend for popular music in television and movies to be lyrically inappropriate for the scene in which it plays, even if it is a good fit musically. I say almost since at the point in the movie where it plays the feelings are not really all that hidden (though they were for almost all the time before that). There is also a lot of pain, though earlier there was much more in the way of hope.

But it is a song I love, in any case. Depending on my mood there are two completely different people that I am reminded of, though thankfully never at the same time. It is a mood thing, one that I have actually worn out a CD playing the song over and over again for on one occasion in the past. And I am not sure it would sound right as Further Down though I am willing to admit this could be my own hearing the song the other way too much to allow the variation....

 

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