You Could Look It Up

Q. Is it ever okay to use further to denote a greater distance? I know that farther is technically correct for this scenario, but I also know that this distinction is fairly recent, and that some great writers have used further to denote a greater distance.

A. Thank you for another opportunity to promote dictionaries as terrific resources for finding out the meanings of words. Merriam-Webster gives farther as the first meaning of further. Under the word farther the dictionary explains: “Farther and further have been used more or less interchangeably throughout most of their history, but currently they are showing signs of diverging. As adverbs they continue to be used interchangeably whenever spatial, temporal, or metaphorical distance is involved. But where there is no notion of distance, further is used: ‘Our techniques can be further refined.’ ”