The War On Words – Aug 2015

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

Media Watch

A radio commercial for a Philadelphia bakery calls for the return to “a kindler and simpler world.” Just think of how many people had to read, hear and approve that phrase.

Our movie reviewer, the inimitable Mark Fields, says he read a review of A Little Chaos that claimed one character’s “troubled past puts the breaks on any intimacy . . .” That would be brakes.

Radio sports talker Dan Patrick is becoming one of our regulars. His latest: “Don’t over-exaggerate” (about the abilities of a certain NBA player). How does one over-exaggerate?

Local attorney Tom Neuberger, in a News Journal editorial, wrote that “Former Sen. Frank Church . . . reigned in the NSA.” That’s reined in. (One can reign by keeping a strong hand on the reins.)

A reader reports that a story about the Nectar Café said the owner “wanted to run a health-conscience breakfast café.” Maybe the owner’s conscience was involved, but conscious was the needed word here.

Philadelphia Inquirer sports writers continue to have trouble ferreting out the subject in some sentences. E.g., Keith Pompey: “Embid’s participation in next month’s Rocky Mountain Revue and NBA summer leagues are in jeopardy.” Subject of the sentence is participation, not leagues, so the verb should be is.

One of countless hosts of Good Morning America, reporting that a cat attacked its owner: “It came clawing at he and his wife.” Would she have used the same pronoun if the cat had attacked only the owner: “It came clawing at he”?

Similarly, Sam Amick, in USA Today: “. . . a video of he and his wife.”


In the word machination—the devising of secret, cunning, or complicated plans and schemes—the first syllable is properly pronounced mak, not mash.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

From a story in The News Journal: “… including a more than $1 million dollar property on Rehoboth Bay.” Note the $—that eliminates the need for the word “dollar.” This is a style mistake that a veteran writer should never make.

Headline from a press release: “Annapolis Named One of the Top Ten Best All-American Vacations for 2015.” As opposed to, say, the bottom ten best?

A political commentator on WDEL, reporting on Republican presidential candidates gathering in Iowa, committed the dreaded double-is: “the significance of it is is that . . .”
U. S. women’s soccer coach: “For me personally, I look at it as an amazing opportunity.” One first-person reference per sentence is preferable.

Notes from All Over

A memo from the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce warned that “. . . ad placements are on a first-come, first-serve basis.” This common mistake somehow misinterprets a simple concept: If you arrive first, you will be served first.

In an email, a friend used the term “hair lip” (don’t ask why). The correct spelling is hare, as in a rabbit.

Rick Perry, in announcing his presidential candidacy, intoned thusly: “I see Americans drownding in debt.” The glasses haven’t made him smarter.

And we wonder: Why do people say and write “preventative” when “preventive” is easier to say and write/spell?

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Word of the Month

As a verb, it means to deprive of strength or vitality and is pronounced eN-uhr-vayt. As an adjective, it means deprived of strength; weakened, and is pronounced i-NUHR-vit.

Quotation of the Month

“For too long people who care about language have allowed themselves to be represented as authoritarian monsters wanting to impose their views on everyone else. Some do and they will fail. Many more are just worried about the way things are going and would like to feel their voices are being heard. They want to be able to engage in the argument and try to have some influence in the battle over usage. Let battle now be joined.”

—John Humphrys, Lost for Words: The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language (2004). To which we add, Hear, hear!