The War on Words – Dec. 2016

Media Watch

• From The News Journal: “With Democrat Matt Meyer and Republican Mark Blake pushing different narratives about how their background makes them fit for the job, it begs the question: What background is required to be an effective executive?” The writer meant it raises or brings up the question. Begs the question means to assume the conclusion of an argument—a type of circular reasoning. It’s a phrase writers should avoid because virtually no one knows how to use it correctly.
• From a TNJ editorial, courtesy of Dick Bugbee, of Wilmington: “In this day of iPhone7s and virtual reality and other things you kids know far better than us old fogies . . .” Should be we.
• Detroit Lions Head Coach Jim Caldwell, quoted in The Philadelphia Inquirer: “He (Matthew Stafford) relishes in tough situations.” No need for “in.” One relishes a situation or revels in it. It’s a term frequently mangled by athletes and coaches.
• An ESPN reporter claimed New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is “most happiest” when he’s playing football. The ol’ double superlative raises its semi-literate head once again.
• CNN is called out three times by a reader who reports she heard an executive producer for the network say “he could have went” (gone is correct)—twice—and that another used the word irregardless. There’s no such word. It’s regardless.
• From a New York Times email alert: “There’s fewer soirees in this administration.” The contraction for “there is” is frequently misused to refer to plurals—in this case, soirees—even in the best publications.
• USA Today sports pages continue to be the black hole of grammar. Latest evidence: “He had expressly wrote in the post . . .” Really? Wrote?

By Request

Periodically, readers ask us to address their pet language peeves. Here’s our response to two recent requests:
1. flair vs. flare – Flair is used in relation to stylishness or originality or to describe someone with an aptitude for doing something well. Flare means a sudden, brief burst of bright flame or light.
2. that vs. who – That should be used when referring to objects, who when referring to people. This has become something of a gray area, however, and some experts claim that can be used in reference to people. Those “experts” would be wrong.

Problem Words

Many other sets of words are often confused. Here are a couple:
• tortuous vs. torturous – Tortuous means full of twists and turns, as a route to a mountain peak, or even the path to solving a problem. Torturous means causing excruciating pain or suffering.
• exercise vs. exorcise – Exercise involves physical effort (duh!). Exorcise means to drive out or attempt to drive out (usually an evil spirit) from a person or place.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

• A press release about an upcoming event boasted that “notable VIPs” would be present. As opposed to un-notable VIPs?
• From an email to me: “I have still yet to read it.” Emails are informal communication, so it’s forgivable, but still is unnecessary.

How Long, Oh Lord, How Long?

(In which we chronicle the continuing misuse of that most abused punctuation mark, the apostrophe.)
• Sign at Booths Corner Farmers Market: “Sticky bun’s.”
• And a reader tells me that our website was home to “a common apostrophe error”: “Enjoy the summer’s bounty, at it’s best!” (Also, let’s lose the comma.)

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Quotation of the Month:

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
—Isaac Asimov

Word of the Month:

sui generis
Pronounced soo-e-GEN-eris, this Latin phrase is an adjective meaning unique, in a class or group of its own.