The War on Words – December 2015

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

Media Watch

• Philadelphia Eagles play-by-play man Merrill Reese, in September: “The team must find a way to make a 360-degree turn.” He meant 180 degrees, but unfortunately the Eagles continued to play badly, which would amount to a 360.
• From The News Journal, courtesy of Larry Nagengast, O&A contributing writer: “‘It hasn’t changed a wit since Pete du Pont created it 30 years ago,’ Perkins said.” The word is whit, meaning the least bit; an iota.
TNJ again, this time from a column by Carron Phillips: “(David Simon, author of The Wire) was a former journalist in the city of Baltimore.” Either he is a former journalist, or he was a journalist. And “the city of”? Redundant.
• From The Newark Post: “Lang said the building shrunk by 20 to 25 percent.” The past tense of shrink is shrank. Then again, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids has confused an entire generation of moviegoers.
• Xfinity headline: “The problem with mens’ growing waistlines.” Amazing how many people think mens is the plural of man. There is no such word, unless an apostrophe is inserted between the n and the s.
• From the New York Times: “Sen. Marco Rubio has been laying low for much of the summer . . .” Similarly, Peter MacArthur on WDEL: “The toy was found laying in 18 inches of water.” Lay means to place; lie means to recline or rest. In both cases, the correct word is lying.
• Actor William Shatner, in a USA Today interview, speaking of negative inclinations: “The older you get, either the further buried they become or they become extant.” He meant extinct. Extant means virtually the opposite: existing. (In fairness to Capt. Kirk, the writer may have misheard him.)
• Lini Kadaba in The Philadelphia Inquirer: “A good mood ‘has a positive affect on creativity,’ he says.” That’s the verb. Effect is the noun.
• A reader heard a KYW radio report about a hostage situation in which the reporter said authorities had moved into the building in order to talk with the hostage-taker “verbally, instead of on the phone.” We’re guessing the reporter meant “in person.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Courtesy of Sports Illustrated, here’s a double redundancy that never occurred to me: The Los Angeles Angels. In Spanish, los means the and angeles means angels.

Getting Political

Continuing our mining of the presidential campaign for War gold: MSNBC reporter Peter Alexander, prefacing a question to a Joe Biden aide: “Based on your loyalty to he and his platform . . .” To is a preposition; it calls for the objective case—him!
Also, Terry Plowman, editor of Delaware Beach Life, notes that a presidential candidate’s town hall meeting has devolved into simply “a town hall.” Says Terry: “I always think it sounds weird when a TV reporter says something like, ‘Hillary Clinton will hold a town hall this morning.’ I get a picture of Superwoman holding a building in the air.”

How long, Oh Lord, how long?: You can get a personalized but grammatically-challenged clock like this one at a shop in the Boothwyn Farmers Market. (No apostrophe needed in Kellys.)

Notes of All Sorts:

My newest pet peeve: “Reach out to,” as in, “I’ll reach out to my friends in the industry.” Whatever happened to “contact,” “call” or a simple “ask”?
And what’s with all the extra prepositions in such phrases as focus in on, welcome in, met up with, over top of, adding on, underneath of and off of.
Ever notice? People have a problem with the participle of the verb “to drink.” It’s drunk: I have drunk, I had drunk. May sound strange, but it’s not drank. (Similarly, shrunk and shrank—see Media Watch.)

And a Reminder

The War on Words, a paperback collection of columns from 2007 to 2011, makes a great stocking stuffer. Get it at Ninth Street Books in Wilmington, Hockessin Bookshelf, or call O&A at 655-6483. Cost is $9.95 plus $3 shipping. Credit cards accepted.

Quotation of the Month

“It would be an excellent thing for the purity and vigour of English if an Act of Parliament were passed making it a criminal offence to distort, mispronounce and murder our English words.”
—S.P.B. Mais, The Writing of English (1935)

Follow me on Twitter: @thewaronwords

Seen a good (bad) one lately?
Send your candidates to ryearick@comcast.net

The War on Words – Oct 2015

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

Media Watch

Notes from all over as we clean out some of our media files:
• Rob Ellis on 97.5 The Fanatic: “You wonder what’s going on with he and the Phillies.” Like many broadcasters, Rob just can’t bring himself to use the oh-so-inelegant objective case, him.
• Carron Phillips, in the News Journal: “After being followed and monitored, police arrested them.” It was the people the police arrested who were being followed and monitored, not the police.
• Call this “Away All Boats”: Katty Kay of the BBC: “The boat sunk.” CBS radio correspondent: “The boat has sank.” The past tense of sink is sank; the past participle is sunk.
• Jon Offredo in the News Journal: “. . . the judge which . . .” That would be “the judge who.”
• WDEL commercial for a financial adviser: “That being said, there’s some great vehicles out there . . .” The contraction “there’s” trips up many in the media, who pair a singular verb (is) with a plural noun—in this case, vehicles. Make it “there are some great vehicles.”
• Nancy Armour in USA Today, noting that Tiger Woods’ kids tagged along with him on the course: “Charlie, 6, followed a few steps behind, proudly toting three of his dad’s irons that were almost as big as him.” Yo, Nance, just complete the sentence; make it “as big as he is.”
• And finally, two examples of the possessive pronoun failing to agree with its antecedent (corrections in parentheses):
1. Peter McArthur on WDEL: “A very familiar name threw their (his or her) name into the ring.”
2. CNN announcer: “Four died and one is fighting for their (his/her) life.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.

We loved this headline on a delawareonline video: “Florida officials captured, euthanized and killed an alligator that bit off a woman’s arm.” Euthanize, of course, means to kill humanely. We’re thinking the headline writer may have thought euthanize means anesthetize. The head was changed a while later.

A/An (again)

As noted previously, we’re convinced that the word “an” is unknown to many people. Two examples:
• The woman who shot a giraffe in Africa posted on YouTube: “What a amazing animal.”
• A reader reports that the Zaikka Indian Grill at 9th and King in Wilmington has good food, but a banner ad there starts out, “Plan a event.”
To review: An is used before singular nouns that begin with a vowel sound. A comes before singular nouns beginning with a consonant sound.

Getting Political

Now that the presidential race has begun, we’re sure the candidates will provide War with plenty of fodder. Here’s one from Jeb Bush: “At this time in the polls, my father was just an asterick.” Yo, Jeb, that’s asterisk.

Missing on Misnomer

Many people misuse misnomer, which means “a wrong or inaccurate name or designation.” It does not mean “a popular misconception or misunderstanding.” E.g., “The common misnomer [misunderstanding] is that all Division 1 football programs operate in the black.” On the other hand, to call this year’s edition of the Philadelphia Phillies “the Fightin’ Phils” is a true misnomer.

Our Readers Write (or email)

Reader Larry Kerchner reports that “awesomesauce” (a word War has never heard) has been added to the Oxford Dictionary. Larry’s comment: “I think there should be a hold on any new words until people learn the old ones. Or half of the old ones. Or, for the love of God, some of the old ones!”

Follow me on Twitter: @thewaronwords

Seen a good (bad) one lately?
Send your candidates to ryearick@comcast.net

Word of the Month: tenebrous
Pronounced TEN-uh-bruhs, it’s an adjective meaning dark, gloomy or obscure.

Quotation of the Month: “If something expands our power of expression it is good, but if it limits it, it is bad. It is very bad indeed when words with clearly different meanings are used interchangeably. Distinction expands our scope for expression. Its removal constrains it.”
—John Humphrys, Lost for Words: The Mangling and
Manipulating of the English Language (2004).