Either I’m missing something, or we’ve become very confused about the proper use of the word either.
We still get it right when used in the way I just used it, either/or; it’s either one thing or another; however, either is often being incorrectly used as a substitute for both. Not only is this wrong, but it can be terribly confusing.
One of our readers mentioned in the Pet Peeves page that it’s often used incorrectly on HGTV, and she is correct. For example, there are many instances when a designer puts two night stands in a room, one to the left of the bed and one to the right, and the narrator says a night stand was placed on either side of the bed. Since they’re showing pictures of the incredible bedroom makeover–so good, in fact, that the homeowner is sobbing with joy–it’s easy to understand what the narrator meant, which was a night stand was placed on both sides of the bed. If a table were placed on either side, as was stated, then there would be one night stand in the room, and it wouldn’t matter which side of the bed it was on–it would be either to the left or the right of the bed.
When speaking without the luxury of television cameras, it’s important that we use either when we mean either and both when we mean both; otherwise, there will be legitimate confusion about the number of items being discussed.
Paul’s book–Literally, the Best Language Book Ever