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