The War on Words

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

SI, We Hardly Know Ye

What has happened to the once rigid grammatical standards at Sports Illustrated? First there was this recent gaffe in a subtitle, caught by daughter Danielle: “The Vikings have two rabid receivers who could care less who’s delivering their slants and curls.” As readers of this column know, the correct phrase is couldn’t care less.

Then, not long afterward, there were two miscues in a story by Jenny Vrentas:
• “They were both a couple years away from turning 40.” That should be couple of, unless you’re referring to two people (the couple walked down the street). You have a couple of something, not a couple something.
• “The Browns’ Berea facility permeated with the same ‘Do Your Job’ mantra . . .” Permeate means “spread throughout” or “pervade,” and in this sentence, should be preceded by was. Better to turn the sentence around: “The same ‘Do Your Job’ mantra permeated the Berea facility.”

More Media

Of course, SI is not the only member of the media that is grammar-challenged. A few recent examples:
• Mike Missanelli, 97.5 talker, recently discussed “the amount of arrests” made after the NFC Championship game in Philly. We love Mike, but he continually mangles the language. It’s number of arrests, Mikey.
• Earl Holland, in the sports pages of the News Journal, predicted the Eagles would beat the Vikes, 28-21, and added: “The Eagles’ defense will come to the rescue in aide of Nick Foles.” “In aide” is both redundant (“come to the rescue” already covers it) and wrong here. An aide is a personal assistant. Aid is the word Earl was groping for.
• Actor Dylan McDermott, quoted in Entertainment Weekly: “I think it stops with he and I.” Like many people, Dylan can’t bring himself to acknowledge the preposition and use the proper him and me. Just doesn’t sound sophisticated, you know?
• John Smallwood in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “St. John’s does not have the offensive acumen to fight all the way back from a decent deficit to a team the quality of Villanova.” Never mind the questionable use of decent; acumen means the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions, as in “business acumen.” We’re pretty sure that’s not what John had in mind.
• A crawl on CNN noted that “White House fights to squash concerns about Trump’s mental health.” That’s quash.
• Kansas City Chiefs Coach Andy Reid, commenting on new Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy: “He puts his own flare on things.” That’s flair—unless Andy was implying that Nagy wears 1970s-style pants.
• Margie Fishman in a News Journal story on Bill Russo, communications director for Joe Biden: “Russo graduated UD in 2009.” Say it with me, media: Colleges graduate students, not the other way around. It’s graduated from!
• And finally, a reader spotted this from a delawareonline story: “Joe Senall, left of Hockessin and Liz Snyder of Middletown pay homage to Tom Petty who died this past year at the Hummers Parade in Middletown.” Of the comma-challenged sentence, the reader says: “I didn’t know that Petty was in the parade at the time of his death.”

Literally of the Month

Commentator on a Saturday morning AM radio show: “The New England Patriots are literally a house of cards about to collapse.

How Long, Oh Lord, How Long?

(In which we call out misuse of that most abused punctuation mark, the apostrophe.)
Someone on the McDaniel Crest website recently offered “Free National Geographic’s.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Reader Maria Hess cites a classic case of redundancy in a radio commercial for Wilmington’s Columbus Inn that begins, “Being a successful professional is hard work, and it isn’t always easy.” True enough; hard work is, by its very nature, not easy.

The War on Words

Media Watch

• Sarah Todd, in the sports section of The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Dario Saric (of the 76ers) is as blue-collar of a player as they come.” The mistake is ubiquitous, but of is totally unnecessary in this and similar phrases.

• Here’s the start of a caption that appeared in a recent Sunday News Journal: “The homeless stay warm inside Sunday Breakfast Mission, who wants to inform the public of the eminent danger to the homeless by issuing an excessive cold alert. . .” It went on in this clunky fashion, but we will only point out that the Sunday Breakfast Mission should be referred to as which, and the danger was imminent (about to happen), not eminent (important, famous).

• Vin Scully, legendary Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster, as reported by the Associated Press: “Dick Enberg (who passed away in December) will never be emulated.” Sadly, the venerable Scully misspoke. Many will no doubt emulate (imitate) the also legendary broadcaster Enberg, but he perhaps will never be equaled, the word we assume Scully meant to use.

• Madison Avenue has rarely demonstrated respect for good grammar. Latest proof, as reported by reader Brenda Boyd: In a TV ad for Sensodyne Toothpaste, the speaker tells the viewer “how effective it works.” That would be effectively; or, better, “how effective it is.”

• Philadelphia radio and TV media were disappointed in the Eagles’ defense during the Giants game, claiming it needed “sureing up.” The term is shoring up, and it refers to a shore, which is a supporting post or beam; a prop or strut. 

• A panelist on MSNBC’s Morning Joe said that “Trump is incredibly beholding to certain right-wing influences.” As noted previously in this space, the word is beholden.

• According to reader Janet Strobert, the November issue of American Way, the American Airlines magazine, contained an article about Kelsea Ballerini that included this sentence: “Ballerini found her footing as a singer-songwriter and earned an early career boost from Taylor Swift, who sung her praises on Twitter on 2015.” The past tense of sing is sang, Janet notes.

• And commentators all over TV and radio continue to utter the double is: “The point is is that . . .”

Signs of the Apocalypse

• Reader Katherine Ward, a writer and editor, recently learned that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary now accepts “sunk” as the past tense of “sink.” Her reaction: “My heart sank. We’re sunk!”

• Corporate-speak is getting way out of hand. Case in point: An email recently sent to a banker friend contained this phrase: “If the action is dependent on technology to solution it . . .” Really? Solve doesn’t work here?

Department of Redundancies Dept.

• In a News Journal story about teachers who created a YouTube video, the caption read: “It’s a positive affirmation for educators.” As opposed to a negative affirmation?

• Reader Joan Burke sends us this caption from the online edition of The Newark Post: “Smoothie bowls, like these ones, are sold at Viva Bowls.” Ones is totally unnecessary here, and it’s also a provincialism that should never appear in a publication, online or otherwise.

• And finally, that banker friend mentioned above notes that “required deadline” is common usage in his office.

Hard to Believe, Harry Dept.

(In honor of the late Richie Ashburn, Phillies announcer, who would utter those words to his broadcast partner, the late Harry Kalas, whenever he witnessed something incredibly stupid.)

Headline in The Inquirer: “Woman burned after setting herself a blaze.” First of all, duh! And second, ablaze is one word.

Just Sayin’

Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7) reminded us of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous (and prophetic) quote: “A date which will live in infamy.” We admire, respect and honor FDR, but grammarians would agree that he should have said “that will live in infamy.”

And we leave you with these reminders:

• Nuclear: It’s pronounced nook-lear, not nook-u-lar.

• The abbreviation i.e. means “that is,” not “for example.” The abbreviation for that is e.g.

The War On Words

Media Watch

• Both Sen. Al Franken and the president seem to have tactile problems. Various media quoted Democrat Franken thusly: “I feel badly” about grabbing a woman’s butt at the Minnesota State Fair a few years ago. Likewise, the (nominal) Republican in the White House says he “feels badly” for his buddy, Gen. Mike Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Attention, politicians and everyone else: when feelings/emotions are involved, you feel bad . . . or good. To feel badly is to have problems with your sense of touch.

• From an email by the president of the National Federation of Press Women: “There’s only 41 days until we will celebrate the New Year.” Such a mistake—using there’s, the contraction for there is, where there are is required because of the plural noun —is rampant, but particularly egregious when committed by the leader of a national organization of communicators.

• Lindsay Schnell, in USA TODAY: “If you don’t think East Coast bias is real, come take up residence on the West Coast for awhile.” Should be a while, a noun phrase that means “a period of time.” Awhile has a similar meaning, but it’s an adverb and is used in such sentences as “she rested awhile.” This can be confusing, but in most cases a while will be your best choice, and always when preceded by “for.”

• Josephine Peterson, in the Wilmington News Journal: “But the same tenants of the constitution . . .” Tenants are occupants of houses or apartments. The word needed here is tenets, meaning principles or beliefs. And Constitution should be capitalized, since the reference was to the U.S. Constitution.

• Derrick Gunn, Comcast sports guy, called the Eagles-Cowboys game “a backyard brawl.” No, it’s not. Backyard denotes proximity, so a Pittsburgh Steelers-Cleveland Browns game qualifies, or University of Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia. But Philly and Dallas? A little too far apart.

• A radio report on the shortage of Christmas trees included this from a tree farmer: “There was a glutton of them a few years ago.” He meant glut. Glutton, of course, describes someone who overindulges in food.

• Finally, courtesy of a reader, another from a NJ story about a fire in Richardson Park: “Her, along with other neighbors, ran out to help.” Her ran out? Really? That should be she, of course.

From the Hard to Believe, Harry Dept.

Reader Walt DelGiorno reports that on a trip to Oregon he and his wife stopped at a restaurant with this sign on the door: “We know longer serve breakfast.” And the menu offered a “Ceaser” salad.


I recently came across two instances in which “dear” (a term of affection) was used where “deer” (the animal) was correct. One was on Facebook (not surprising at all), and one in USA TODAY (semi-surprising).  That got me thinking about words that sound alike, differ slightly in spelling, and have entirely different meanings. Here are a few:

alter: to change, amend.  altar: the structure in churches where offerings are made.

hanger: a device used to hang clothes.  hangar: where planes are kept.

stationary: unmoving. stationery: paper products.

ladder: a structure used for climbing. latter: situated or occurring nearer to the end of something than to the beginning.

complimentary: denoting a compliment, praise.

complementary: completing something else or improving it.

exercise: physical activity, or, as a verb, to use or apply.

exorcise: to drive out or attempt to drive out, especially an evil spirit.

baloney: nonsense. bologna: a large sausage; or, capped, a city in northern Italy.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

• Reader Janet Strober calls out this sentence in Foreign Body, by Robin Cook: “Neil got his key card, left his room, and descended down to the lobby level.”

• And two utterances I head on local radio: “adult woman,” and “15-year-old teenager.”

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Word of the Month:


Pronounced BA-fuhl-gab, it’s a noun meaning obscure, pompous, or incomprehensible language, such as bureaucratic jargon.

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The War On Words

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

This is the worst!

CBS NFL color analyst Dan Fouts recently called a penalty “the worse I’ve ever seen.” Meanwhile, Mike Missanelli, sports talker on 97.5 The Fanatic, tweeted about turnovers during a Philadelphia 76ers game: “2 TOs at the worse time!”
They’re not alone; many people mistake worse, the comparative adjective, for worst, the superlative. If something is as bad as it can be, use worst.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Susan Monday, on her WDEL talk show: “It was a repeat performance from before.”
And reader Dan Hamilton says a New York Times editorial used the term “partisan gerrymander” four times. Gerrymander means “to manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) to favor one party or class”—thus eliminating, as Dan points out, the need to call it partisan.

Media Watch

• Headline from the Wilmington News Journal, courtesy of reader Joan Burke: “Man critically wounded after being found stabbed.” Which prompts this from Joan: “So how does that work? Did they wound him after they found him?”
• Similarly, a reader submits this from a USA TODAY story: “Five suspected terrorists were fatally killed by the police.” Thus killing them twice?
• A WNJ story described UD’s football victory over Richmond as a “penultimate win.” Like many people, the writer thinks that penultimate means the absolute best, when it actually means, simply, next to last. Reader Julian Baumann, Jr., who also spotted the gaffe, comments: “UD fans surely hope not.”
• And reader Luann Haney came across this in a WNJ story about the shooter who killed three people in Maryland before being apprehended in Delaware: “He also had multiple traffic offenses from attempting to allude Maryland State Police.” Allude means to suggest or call attention to indirectly. What was meant here was elude.
• We end with a minor transgression by Christine Brennan, USA TODAY sports columnist: “But more than half our nation’s population has no idea how big of a deal this was.” Of is totally unnecessary in that phrase, and is avoided by the best writers and speakers.
Most Common Mistake
Let us now address the most common punctuation gaffe committed by Americans: placing periods and commas outside quotation marks. Such placement is correct in Britain and virtually everywhere else in the world, but here in the good ol’ US of A, periods and commas go inside quotation marks. It seems counter-intuitive, we know, and that’s why so many people do it. Here are examples:
Wrong: She said, “I’m going to the store”. Calling his action “a mistake”, the politician apologized.
Right: She said, “I’m going to the store.” Calling his action “a mistake,” the politician apologized.

Stranger Things

. . . not just the name of a popular Netflix series, but also a descriptor for the way we sometimes treat words. Examples:
• Overheard in the Brandywine YMCA sauna (usually a veritable bastion of eloquence and wisdom): “I may be touting my own horn here, but . . .” The man meant “tooting.” He was touting his expertise.
• Overheard on the street: “I’m going to videotape that with my cell phone.” Smartphones have a video recording function, but there is no tape involved.
• A friend reports that “action” is frequently used as a verb in his workplace: “You need to action this.” “This is for him to action.” Please, stop with the corporate corruption of language!

Ah, Those Advertisers

Advertising and advertisers have never been great respecters of correct usage (“light beer has less calories”), and two current commercials reinforce that observation:
• Home Mattress Center urges consumers: “Lay down on our mattresses.” Our question: lay what down? To lay is to put or set something down. To lie (the verb needed here) is to recline.
• And Corropolese Bakery & Deli in Norristown is back with its commercial on Philly radio about “a kindler, gentler time.” Kindler: not a word, at least not in this sense. It’s the rarely used noun form of kindle. Kinder is meant here.

Word of the Month

Pronounced MAM-uh-thrept, it’s a noun meaning a spoiled child or a person of immature judgment.

The holidays are here, and The War on Words book makes a great stocking stuffer. Buy it at Ninth Street Books in Wilmington, the Hockessin Book Shelf, on Amazon, or by calling O&A at 655-6483.

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The War On Words

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

Win a $25 gift certificate for El Diablo Burritos: Identify any sentence, phrase or term below that is correct. Prize goes to the first person to email the correct answer to

Just between you and I. | Exact replica. | Pouring over the material. | Your an idiot. | Should have ran. | Bring me to the ball game. | He was literally breathing fire. | It would have shrank. |  It sunk. | It would have sank. | He graduated college. | He’s an alumni. | Not that big of a deal. | He squashed the meeting. |  I myself personally. | The point is is that. | It mitigates against that. | It’s the principal of the thing. | He made a 360-degree change. | Sitting in the library, fire sirens went off. | He found the mother load. | It runs the gambit. | Discuss between the three of you. | Enclosed please find herewith. | RSVP please. | I’m loath to do that. | She’s laxadaisical. | He’s expecially fat. | You can not do that. | No one is like that no more. | Use an axterisk. | Great players, like, i.e., Babe Ruth. | Déjà vu all over again. | Mano y mano. | Irregardless of the situation. | I could have wrote that. | She supposably likes wine. | He ate the whole entire thing. | He has prostrate problems. | Last year, they lead the league in errors. | There are less calories in light beer. | He ate a large amount of burgers. | More stricter laws are needed. | Her peripheal vision. | He’s an intragral part of the team. | In lieu of the snow, we are closing. | For all intensive purposes. | The storm wrecked havoc. | The Phils are flustrating. | I seen the accident. | You should have saw what I saw. | I would have did it different. | I feel badly. | I’m done my homework. | Family heirloom. | It’s apple’s and orange’s. | She told an antidote. | Past history. | Future plans. | Pre-planning. | The office needs stationary. | Very unique. | End result. | Ultimate outcome. | The general consensus of opinion. | Mutual cooperation. | Alternative options. | I’ll have a cup of expresso. | It had no affect on me. | He’s adverse to sharing. | Did you just infer that I’m stupid? | He has a hairlip. | You shouldn’t have drank that. | Drinks are complementary. | She is a Christian women. | There not going to the party. | Alls you have to do. | I was happy, really jubulant. | It depends on your prospective. | Hone in on the target. | Tough road to hoe. | Thanks Joe. | Here you are Sam. | Director, Joe Smith ran the meeting. | I know!!! | All of the sudden. | I could care less. | Precise estimate. | On accident. | The Smith’s live here. | He can score the ball. | He gets a lot of YAC yardage. | She drives a Volkswagon. | VIN number. | ATM machine. | Eagles verse Redskins. | That begs the question as to why he is President. | Me and him are going. | First come, first serve. | The guide wire on the pole. | We’ll return momentarily. | Former ex-football player. | That’s besides the point. | My fellow colleagues. | It’s cut and dry. | A book that’s chuck full of information. | Three pair of pants. | Go lay down. | I was bored, disinterested in the subject. | A foreshadowing of things to come. | A 50-50 toss-up. | The reason why is. | In the essence of time. | Underneath of the bridge. | Another gaff by Biden. | Trump is prone to disassembling. | The 10 most quintessential movies. | He’s the Achilles tendon on that team. | It was the very last, the penultimate item. | I should’ve took the train. | He flaunts the law. | I never loose an argument. | Balled fist. | Gambler’s Anonymous. | Her dog was the biggest of the two. | I hate them Cowboys. | Honey, I shrunk the kids. | It was a miniscule mistake. | Mens room. | The car had their headlights on. | A respite of rest. | The mushroom capitol of the world. | He has an educated pallet. | 10 a.m. in the morning. | Chomping at the bit. | There’s many more of them. | Airport hanger. | The internment will be at Veterans Cemetery. | Different than. | It’s a challange. | Happy New Year’s.  | He eked over the goal line. | She eeks out a living as a waitress. | He wrote the foreward of the book. | Open ‘til 6 p.m. | They caught lightening in a bottle. | That’s a quandry. | It’s all here. | He took a conservative tact as a businessman. | Not as good as he use to be. | You are smarter than me. | Sum total. | He’s the person that did it. | The thing which bothers me most. | I’ll be back in awhile. | Alright. | Alot. | A part from that, it was fun. | A singer who is nationally renown.

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The War On Words

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

Media Watch
• George Schroeder in USA Today: “Gundy insists the rattlesnake thing was not preplanned.” Not strictly wrong, just a meaningless word (does it mean planning to plan?). What’s wrong with planned?
Philadelphia Inquirer, under “This Date in Sports: 1993— Jack Nicklaus sunk a birdie putt on the 16th hole . . .” A day after the Inky error, 97.5 The Fan talker Harry Mayes said his heart sunk when he heard 76ers rookie Markelle Fultz had injured his ankle. Philadelphia media, please note: the past tense of sink is sank.
• From David Brooks’ opinion piece in The New York Times online, courtesy of reader Jane Buck: “For the Greeks, that was just avariciousness, an activity that shrunk you down into a people-pleasing marketer . . .” Although avariciousness is indeed a word, Jane points out that avarice is much preferred. And shrunk is similar to sunk, in that the past tense of shrink is shrank, not shrunk.
• Correspondent Anthony Mason on CBS Sunday Morning: “At age 16, the song ‘Royals’ made Lorde an international pop star.” The dreaded dangler. The song wasn’t 16, Tony, the singer was.
• Matthew Albright, engagement editor at the Wilmington News Journal, recently had a two-fer in a very incisive Sunday column: 1) They don’t appear to have surreptitiously squashed meetings . . .” One quashes (suppresses) meetings, movements, etc. Squash is a little too literal. 2) “Delaware politicians, usually loathe to criticize in public . . .” That’s loath. Loathe is the verb meaning “to abhor, detest.” Loath is an adjective meaning “reluctant.”
• WDEL’s Don Voltz, on Robinson Cano hitting a home run in extra innings of this year’s All-Star game – the first such home run since 1967 (50 years ago), when Tony Perez hit one: “Ironically,” said Big Don, “Perez was there at the game.” Not ironic. Coincidental. Ironic does not mean any kind of amusing coincidence. It means the opposite (outcome) of what was expected; contrary to expectation.
• Laken Litman in USA Today: “Organized spaces and a clean carpet don’t necessarily equate a successful turnaround.” “Last year he—and extension the team—was too focused on production . . .” “the season spiraled from there.” Litman is afflicted with the current trend of dropping prepositions—as in graduated (from) college. “Equate” needs to after it; by should be in front of “extension,” and “spiraled” needs a direction after it; in this case, down.

As we have pointed out several times, English is full of confusing words. Here are some of the more troublesome:
gambit – Often confused with gamut, it means a ploy or strategy, as in a card game. Gamut, on the other hand, means range or scope, as in, “she exhibited a gamut of emotions.”
load – Sometimes mistakenly used in place of lode, which means a deposit of ore, and, in a figurative sense, a rich source. Load, of course, refers to a quantity to be carried.
bring – Speaking of carrying, we come to the age-old bring/take question. The problem here is that many people never use take. Think of the sports term “home and away.” To bring something is to have it carried to your location—your home, say. That’s why you tell your dog, “bring me the paper.” To take refers to something moving away from you—to another location/destination. Reader Dick Bugbee points out this problem in a recent News Journal editorial: “For that reason, we hope Delaware officials follow through on a plan to bring their case to federal court.” Neither Delaware officials nor the TNJ are located in federal court, so they would take their case to federal court.

Literally of the Month
Courtesy of reader Maria Hess, who notes the Xfinity commercial with this tagline: “Wi-Fi: we literally could not live without it.”

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Word of the Month

Pronounced out-HER-uhd, it’s a verb meaning to surpass in cruelty, evil, extravagance, etc. Derived from the biblical King Herod, the villain in the Christmas story.

Quotation of the Month

The teacher and the printing press are the great supporters of linguistic tradition.
— Henry Alexander, Painter, 1860-1894

The War On Words

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

Media Watch

In the course of one hour on a recent Sunday morning, I encountered these gaffes:

• Tracy Smith, on CBS Sunday Morning, reporting on author Herman Wouk: “After graduating Columbia University, he found work writing for comedian Fred Allen’s radio show.” Never mind the wordy “found work writing for,” the real culprit here is the missing from after “graduating.” When did this start, this trend of people graduating schools instead of schools graduating people?

• Same show, from Correspondent Lee Cowan: “The goats scale up a tree.” Scale: to climb up a surface (Department of Redundancies Dept.).

• Danny Pommells, on Comcast SportsNet: “The play of he and Reddick . . .” A typical sportscaster, eschewing the objective pronoun him, required by the preposition of, because he sounds more sophisticated.

• “I can tell you that Italy and China had twice as many voting representatives than the Philadelphia market” — Bob Ford, Philadelphia Inquirer. Surprising, since Ford usually writes pristine prose, but the comparative here calls for “as the Philadelphia market.”

Some additional media miscues:

• Reader Larry Kerchner spotted an online medical service article that reported “a debilitating condition, untreated Tinnitus wrecks havoc.”  The term is wreaks havoc. Says Larry: “Hey, I never liked havoc anyway.”

• In Delaware Business Times, a Sam Waltz sentence lost its way: “Clearly, exercising your First Amendment rights to commercial free speech now have been impeded and impaired by Dover Lawmakers.” Exercising, not rights, is the subject, so the verb is singular: has been.

• In a Wilmington News Journal story by Scott Goss, spotted by reader Jane Buck: “Aslam and Kim also withheld details about . . . a business partnership, cash payments and a gifted BMW sedan, according to the indictment.” Jane wonders if the BMW could dance, and I wonder why writers employ such strained, bastardized words. Wouldn’t “a free BMW sedan” work?

• Bob Cooney in The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Jackson’s shooting form may be something the Sixers would see as needing a major overhaul as it has myriad of mechanical problems.” Either insert a in front of myriad or make it “myriad mechanical problems.” Either way is fine, since myriad is considered both a noun and an adjective, but I prefer the shorter “myriad problems.”

• ESPN football commentator Tedy Bruschi: “It was much more easier for me.”  The deadly double comparative. Perhaps Tedy had too many brewskis before the broadcast.

• During a Phillies TV broadcast, Tom McCarthy said the runner needed to be “weary and leery of the catcher.”  That’s wary, Tom. And aren’t wary and leery virtually the same thing?

• Let’s end with this, from TNJ, via a reader: “When plump, chicken catchers, like those employed by Unicon, round up the birds….” Ah, those chicken catchers: plump but nimble.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

• From the Newark Post: “Nelson said the victim, a 22-year-old man, had engaged in a mutual fight with Evans.”

• Martin Frank, in TNJ: “In addition, Wentz’s new receivers, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, as well as running back LeGarrette Blount, will also get their fair share of attention . . .”

Missed Opportunity

Reader Susan Kaye writes: “Your comment on the News Journal sports page and ‘There ARE a litany of teams’ does not address the fact that litany is a singular noun. Although I agree that ‘litany’ doesn’t really fit in the context, if the sportswriter does choose to use it, it really should be ‘there IS a litany of teams.’”

Couldn’t Resist

I came across this somewhere on the Internet: What do you say when comforting a grammar Nazi? Their, there, they’re.

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The War on Words

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

Media Watch
• Reader Joan Burke sends this from the Newark Post: “Before that, he was piloting hobby helicopters, but there was something about drones that peaked his interest, so he decided to buy one.” The correct word is piqued, which in this case means “stimulated.” It also can mean irritated or resentful.
• Heard Geoff Mosher, of 97.5 The Fanatic, refer to the “schematics” of the Eagles’ upcoming season. He’s one of many sportscasters who have bastardized “schematic,” which is an adjective referring to a diagram, especially in electronics, into a noun referring to an NFL team’s plans for a game or a season.
• CNN recently posted a report on a man who was “recovering from a viscous attack by teens.” The typo gremlin made a vicious attack on that sentence.
• USA Today reviewed a new album by R&B singer Faith Evans in which one cut is “One in the Same.” That’s an eggcorn for the proper “one and the same”—a phrase apparently misheard by Ms. Evans and many others.
• From an Associated Press story on Cubs-Yankees 18-inning game: “What was left of the crowd also sung along when the Cubs showed a tape of Harry Caray singing ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’” Sang is the past tense of sing; have sung is the past participle. They’re often mixed up by the masses, but media people should get them right.
• USA Today’s Steve Gardner: “Despite three dominant seasons in South Korea, fantasy owners were completely convinced Thames was a different hitter this year.” Ah, the dreaded dangler. Makes it sound as if fantasy owners spent thee dominant seasons in South Korea, when it was actually Eric Thames of the Milwaukee Brewers.
• And a reader notes that, in a Wilmington News Journal story on baking bread for the needy, the phrase “loafs of bread” appeared. That should be loaves. Apparently the editor and proofreader were loafing.

Department of Redundancies Dept.
• USA Today: “. . . Nicole Kidman, who has four different projects screening [at the Cannes Film Festival].” As opposed to four of the same projects? Admittedly, this is rampant and generally not recognized as a redundancy, but it’s become a personal peeve.
• Reader Jane Buck submits this from the Washington Post: “President Trump’s conversations and statements and braggadocio all live in the same nebulous cloud. . .” Nebulous: “In the form of a cloud.”

Notes of All Sorts
• I recently sat through an interesting talk that was marred by the speaker’s repeated use of inference to mean implication. Although round-heeled grammar descriptivists may accept infer as a synonym for imply, we prescriptivists know that imply means to suggest, while infer means to deduce. The nouns derived from those verbs are similarly defined.
• We write a lot about beer in Out & About—a lot. As a result, the word draft sometimes appears in our stories. Some word nerds may wonder why we don’t use draught. That’s British English and generally only appears here in the Colonies in product marketing.
• A reader heard a commercial for the Chase Center’s wedding and party capabilities with the tag line “We do different.” This is in the grand tradition of the advertising and promotion profession, which has little regard for proper English. There’s the now famous “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should,” and locally, Goldey Beacom College’s “Achieve Greater,” among many others.
• Words I have seen enough of over the past year of political campaigning: pivot, optics and double down. Here’s hoping politicians and pundits find substitutes soon.

Literally of the Month:
An ESPN anchor, engaging in the hyperbole typical of the sports media: “The Cavaliers literally blew the Celtics off the floor.”

Seen a good (bad) one lately?
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Word of the Month

Pronounced MUHR-mi-dahn, -duhn, it’s a noun meaning one who unquestioningly follows orders.

Quotation of the Month

“When you re-read a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in yourself than there was before.”
—Clifton Fadiman, editor and critic (1904-1999)

The War On Words June 2017

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

Media Watch

• Harry Smith, on Sunday Today with Willie Geist, interviewing an old woman: “Born about the time women got the right to vote, I was curious, so I asked her . . .” He was clearly speaking of her, but the dangler made it sound as if he was referring to himself.
• From the Wilmington News Journal sports pages: “There are a litany of teams that have tried to address the quarterback position.” Litany is one of those words that sportswriters in particular seem to think will make their copy more sophisticated. But using it to simply mean a list is wrong. A litany is “a tedious recital or repetitive series,” as in “a litany of complaints.”
• Two more from TNJ, with corrections in parentheses: 1. “Video footage from a DART bus at the scene showed Cottingham step in to try to diffuse (defuse) the situation . . .” 2. “Neither were (was) seriously hurt” (in a story on a tree totaling Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn’s car, in which he was riding with his son).
• Robert Bianco, TV reviewer in USA Today, who is usually immune to the semi-literacy plaguing that newspaper, in a review of Imaginary Mary: “Jenna Elfman . . . is cast as a tightly-wound, kid-adverse executive.” He meant averse (opposed, antagonistic). Adverse means contrary, hostile, bad; as in adverse weather.
• Commentator Geoff Mosher on 97.5 The Fan: “Getting to the Super Bowl is a long road to hoe.” You hoe a row, as in a crop like corn or tobacco. A road can’t be hoed. Common mistake.
• Host Mike Missanelli on 97.5: “Where are you getting your information from?” As I’ve said many times, there’s no rule against ending a sentence in a preposition, but this sentence should have ended with information.
• A WDEL reporter used the term “wrecking havoc.” It’s wreaking havoc.
• Most news outlets got it right in referring to Aaron Hernandez, the former NFL player who hanged himself in jail. But a few said he hung himself. Hung is the correct past tense in most senses: “I hung a picture; I hung a left turn.” The exception comes where hang means to put to death by hanging.

Literally of the Month:

ESPN’s Matt Hasselbeck, assessing Kansas City’s pick of quarterback Patrick Mahomes: “He is literally everything that Alex Smith (the current Chiefs qb) is not.” Wrong—on so many levels. For starters, they’re both quarterbacks. And right-handed. And human beings.

The DP Dept.

It’s getting so we need a separate department for The Dan Patrick Show. Some gaffes from the sports talk host and his minions:
• Dan: “My wife is encouraging me to cook more meals while she cooks less meals.” It’s fewer, since meals is plural.
• Dan: “Not that big of a deal.” Patrick is one of the countless commentators who add this uncecessary word. And while I’m at it, can we eliminate the wordy “based off of” and revert to the more traditional and succinct “based on”?
• One of the “Dannettes,” commenting on Sergio Garcia celebrating his victory in The Masters: “I can only imagine how much wine was drank.” That would be drunk, a word many people view as only an adjective or a noun.

A Hollywood Moment

Like most people, actor Richard Gere can’t bring himself to use objective pronouns. Joking about his relationship with co-star Rebecca Hall in The Dinner, the graying Gere referred to “. . . the sexual tension between she and I.” Admittedly, her and me sounds much less elegant, but the preposition between demands it.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

“The bridge spans over the creek”—a sentence that popped up in a piece of copy I edited. Spans, in this sense, means to extend across.

The War on Words

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

Department of Redundancies Dept.

• Associate Editor Krista Connor came across this gem in the Wilmington News Journal: “The predictions are ‘certainly far from a lock,’ Shafer said, stressing how unpredictable this storm has been to predict.”
• From a synopsis on Fandango for the film Slamma Jamma: “A recently released ex-inmate (Chris Staples) with a gift for basketball negotiates life on the outside . . .” Being released definitely qualifies him as an ex-inmate.

Media Watch

• “There will be less coaches at Indian River High School [because of budget cuts].” —WDEL’s Sean Greene. Repeat after me, everyone: Less for quantity, fewer for number (and plurals).
• Comedian Kathleen Madigan, quoted in TNJ: “And the fact that you said that makes me certain you have never drank a box of wine and took an Ambien.” Using drank where drunk is correct – common mistake. But took? Unforgivable. It’s taken. Am assuming her wit is superior to her grammar skills.
• From TNJ, courtesy of contributing writer Larry Nagengast: “Everything about downstate Delaware’s trout fishing experience is manmade, from the fish that are brought in every year to the ponds where they are released.” Never mind the danger of the “everything from to” construction, how does one make a fish?
• During the March snowstorm, DelDot spokespeople referred to “snow and ice laying on trees and power lines.” Lying (resting, reclining) is correct. To lay is to place or put.

Literally of the Month:

ESPN commentator describing Clemson football fans after the Tigers beat Alabama for the national championship: “They were literally living and dying with each play.”

Readers Write

Joe Huston, of West Marlborough Twp., Chester County, Pa., notes what he calls “a perennial irritant”:
“. . . to hear someone say that one is ‘chomping at the bit’ (to take a big bite out of) rather than properly ‘champing’ (to work nervously in anticipation).”
So noted, Joe.

Problems, we’ve got problems

English is chockablock with words and terms that are problematic, confusing, hard to understand (see “begs the question” from last month’s column). Cases in point:
Podium/lectern. Many people use the term podium when they mean lectern. A podium is a platform upon which a speaker stands while speaking. Think of it as a stage. It often is a stage. In fact, you can have a lectern on a podium on a stage.
Ironic (or not). Irony is a word and concept that’s often misunderstood. It’s a figure of speech that has several definitions, but for our purposes this will suffice: the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning. Also, irony is often (usually?) unintentional.
For instance, Facebook is rife with comments like this: “Your an idiot.” Now, that’s ironic. Another: the sign announcing, “The Procrastinators meeting has been postponed.”
A statement that conveys an unusual circumstance is not necessarily ironic. One online example: An employer provides free lunch for employees the day after Thanksgiving. Unusual, maybe. Not ironic.
The definition is a bit subjective, as evidenced by the fact that there is a website where you can vote on whether a statement is ironic:
Until/till/’til. Until, as we all know, indicates when something will happen, begin, or end. Till means the same thing as until. It is not an abbreviation, and indeed precedes until in the history of our language. Do not use an apostrophe with it, and avoid ‘til, which top dictionaries and style guides consider an error.

And finally . . .

Sad news for the literate world: We lost a champion in March when Washington Post Copy Editor Bill Walsh, just 55, passed away. He was the ultimate language authority.

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Word of the Month:

Pronounced dik’ tät, it’s a noun meaning an order or decree imposed by someone in power without popular consent.

Quotation of the month

“Unnecessary words waste space and the reader’s time, and they make strong writing weak.”
—Gary Blake & Robert W. Bly,
The Elements of Technical Writing (1993)