The War On Words April 2017

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

Literally of the Month

“Trump is literally shoring up his foreign affairs staff.”
Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski, who loves that word.

Media Watch

• A reader caught Monica Malpass of WPVI Channel 6 in a little subject/verb disagreement: “No one, including the driver, were hurt.”
• Troy Aikman, Fox’s lead color man for NFL games, called a player “laxadaisical,” the default mispronunciation for most TV jocks. (It’s lackadaisical. But you knew that, right?) That mistake is second to peripheal vision (as opposed to the correct peripheral) in their misguided vocabulary.
• WDEL committed the still/yet faux pas, reporting that “the Red Clay District has still yet to make a decision.” Still is superfluous in that sentence.
• From The News Journal: “Bouchard sided with Elting’s claims that fighting between she and Shawe prevented the company from conducting important business.” Prepositions, such as between, require objective pronouns (her).
• Five—count ‘em, five—readers sent me this from TNJ: “Inspectors from the division of Public Health issued a cease and desist immediately closing the restaurant, which has been a stable in Newark since 1971.” The word needed here, of course, is staple.
• From a TNJ editorial (courtesy of a reader): “That jives with the national trend.” Jibe, or, more properly, gibe, is the word meant here. Jive is swing music, the dancing performed to it, or glib, deceptive talk.
• Martin Rogers in USA Today reported that, before the Super Bowl, Patriots Coach Bill Belichick “was offering amusing anecdotes . . . and regaling memories of his job in a pub kitchen as a teen.” You can’t regale memories. You can regale (amuse, entertain) an audience by relating or recounting memories to them.
• Bill Hader to Melissa McCarthy during a Saturday Night Live skit: “Have you ever sang in front of people before?” Many folks have trouble with the past participle of verbs. Sung is correct here.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

• Tim Furlong of NBC 10, adding emphasis to his Facebook request: “Hit me back right away asap OK?”
• From The News Journal: “Malhotra could be seen visibly pressing the buzzer.” Courtesy of reader Sarah Hutchinson.
• From The Philadelphia Inquirer, in a story on the Steelers-Chiefs playoff game: “Weather also could be a factor, too.”

Miscellany

Some media types use the term “flush out” when they mean “flesh out,” which refers to expanding or enlarging something, such as an argument or a resume. “Flush out” would mean almost the opposite.

One More Time . . .

In the 10-year history of this column, we have pointed out several times that begs the question does not mean to raise or bring up the question – the sense in which it is almost always used. Some readers have noted that our explanation of what the phrase does mean has been somewhat lacking. So, we’re going to take another (last?) stab at an explanation:
Begs the question refers to a kind of circular argument, or tautology, in which a statement is assumed to be correct without evidence other than the statement itself. E.g., The reason there’s such a big demand for tickets is because everyone wants them. This sentence has begged the question because it assumes the initial point. Used in this sense, the word beg means “to avoid,” not “ask” or “lead to.”
So, think of the phrase as avoids the point—and avoid using it altogether.

Word of the Month:

bovarism
Pronounced BO-vuh-riz-em, it’s a noun meaning a romanticized, unrealistic view of oneself.

Need a speaker for your organization?
Contact me for a fun PowerPoint presentation on grammar: ryearick@comcast.net.

Follow me on Twitter: @thewaronwords

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

The War on Words March 2017

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

Media Watch

• From a Wilmington News Journal story quoting Ashley Biden: “DCJ uses a whole-listic approach . . .” Hard to believe someone would misspell holistic in such a literal manner.
• From NJ.com comes this report about a hiker who came across a bear in the woods: “The bear went on to attack the hiker, killing them.” Meaning the hiker and the bear were both killed?
• Dan Patrick, on his radio show, reported that Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told him he had “taken less hits this year.” Dan apparently is one of the many who never use fewer. Once again: it’s less for amount and fewer for numbers or plurals.
• Similarly, from a list of Super Bowl bets in USA Today: “Tiebreaker: total amount of costume changes by Lady Gaga.” When referring to a plural, use number.
• A News Journal editorial stated that Joe Biden was not going to let his deep knowledge “whither on the vine.” That should be “wither.” With the h, it’s archaic and means “to what place,” e.g., “whither thou goest.”

Literallys of the Month

A reader caught this deluge of our favorite word during just 15 minutes of a CNN report on 9/11:
Rudy Giuliani: “I literally bolted out of the room.”
Laura Bush: “I literally called the President.”
Dick Cheney: “He literally propelled me out of the room.” (Referring to a Secret Service agent.)
Joe Lhota: “I literally put my head down on the floor.” (In the back seat of a police car.)
Joe Lhota: “We were literally looking at people jumping out of the window.”
Joe Lhota: “I had thoughts of a nuclear attack. I literally did.”
Debora Loewer: “He literally put his arm in front of me.” (Referring to President Bush on Air Force One.)
Rudy Washington: “I literally jogged to the site.”
Ann Compton: “Literally a small Dodge Caravan pulled up next to the plane.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Mike Breen, in The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Schmidt, 67, has become a regular fixture at spring training.” A fixture is “fixed in position.”
Roy Blunt, chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inauguration Ceremonies, at Donald Trump’s inauguration: “George Washington took the exact same oath.” Wait. It wasn’t the exact different oath?

Miscellany

Sen. Tom Carper’s response to my request regarding his vote on certain political appointments: “I appreciate you taking the time to share your concerns.” The possessive your should be used in this case since the reference is to the act—taking the time (a gerund) —not to me.
Anti-climatic, which I’ve seen in several places in the media, is not a word. It’s anti-climactic (note the second c).
Facebookers, please note: cannot is one word; it’s not can not.
And finally, we must address the bastardization of ask in such examples as “I have a big ask of you” and “March organizers have one ask of you . . .” This random, off-hand changing of our language is a growing, and lamentable, trend. In this case, a verb has been transformed into a noun. “I have a big favor to ask” and “March organizers have one request” are much more palatable—and correct.

Communication

Since that’s what this column is ultimately about, here’s an old Hollywood anecdote that demonstrates how language can be manipulated when it’s not sufficiently precise:
A journalist faced a tight deadline for his story on Cary Grant, and, needing to know Grant’s age, fired off this telegram to the movie legend’s agent: “How old Cary Grant?”
Unfortunately for the reporter, Grant intercepted the telegram. He thought a moment, then sent this response: “Old Cary Grant fine. How you?”

Follow me on Twitter: @thewaronwords

Need a speaker for your organization?
Contact me for a fun PowerPoint presentation on grammar: ryearick@comcast.net.

Word of the Month

effluvium
Pronounced i-FLOO-vee-uhm, it’s a noun meaning an unpleasant discharge; for example, fumes, vapors, or gases from waste or decaying matter.

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

The War on Words – Feb. 2017

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

Media Watch

• From the Philadelphia Inquirer: “But a claim that only Democratic lawmakers were targeted does underscore the need for future attorney generals to administer justice without fear or favor.” The correct term is attorneys general.
• A letter to the Wilmington News Journal from “an alumna of Middletown H.S.” was signed “Joshua.” We are assuming, then, that he is an alumnus of Middletown High. An alumna is a female graduate, an alumnus is a male.
• The News Journal’s story on the annual New Year’s Day Hummers Parade in Middletown noted that one float was “a rift on two events.” That would be riff, meaning a witty comment or part of a comic performance. The same story also referred to the “Philadelphia Eagle’s season.” Reads as if it’s referring to just one Eagle.
• An obituary is a final commentary on the life of the deceased, and as such it should be treated with care and reverence. Unfortunately, these brief biographies are usually a collaboration between the deceased’s family and the funeral home, and this sometimes produces misspellings, bad syntax and misused or misplaced words. The notice is printed by most papers (including the News Journal) with little or no editing. As a result, even common obituary terminology is sometimes mangled. Recent examples, with corrections in parentheses:
— Readers were invited to send online “condolances” (condolences).
— The deceased was described as being “formally (formerly) of Newark.”
— “He will be gratefully (greatly) missed.”

Readers Write

A reader sent us a notice she received about an event featuring a presentation on “The Importance of Reigning in Your Operating Expenses.” Reigning (to govern or rule over) is often confused with reining—the correct term here—which means to hold back, as with the reins on a horse.
Another reader, noting our recent item on incorrect movie titles, submits The Secret Life of Pets. She asks: “Should this not be The Secret Lives of Pets?” Yes, it should.
Yet another says that her pet peeves include the misuse of the verbs lie and lay and sit and set. The two sets of words present similar problems for some speakers and writers. Here’s a brief tutorial:
• “To lie” means “to be at rest.” “To lay” means “to place or put somewhere.” An object must always follow this verb.
So, you lie on the bed, or you tell the dog, “go lie down.” And you lay the book (the object) on the table. The usual mistake is to use lay where lie is needed: If you say, “I’m going to lay down,” I might ask you: “What are you going to lay down?”
• “To sit” means “to occupy a seat.” “To set” means “to put in place,” and, like lay, it must be followed by an object. You sit in the chair and you set a dish on the table. Again, the most common mistake is to substitute set for sit, as in the command “set down.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.

• Gary Kubiak, Denver Broncos coach: “It’s our job to do our job and stop them.”
• On The Dan Patrick Show, I heard these comments: “empty out the bowl,” and “they listed off the reasons . . .”

Random Notes

I wrote the phrase “have rung” in an email, and my system (Outlook) “corrected” it to have rang. Amazing. The system could double as a sports radio talk show host.
Speaking of radio, I heard a venerable WDEL personality utter this sentence: “Did I over-exaggerate that?” Shades of swimmer Ryan Lochte, who, in his Rio Olympics debacle, said he “over-exaggerated” a story about a robbery.
The word of can be problematic. It is unnecessary in such phrases as “not too big of a deal.” On the other hand, it needs to be inserted in such phrases as “a couple (of) teams are in contention.”

Word of the Month:

kakistocracy
Pronounced kak-i-STOK-ruh-see, it’s a noun meaning government by the least qualified or worst persons. Use it as you see fit.

Follow me on Twitter: @thewaronwords

Need a speaker for your organization?
Contact me for a fun PowerPoint presentation on grammar: ryearick@comcast.net.

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the Hockessin Book Shelf, on Amazon, or by calling 302-655-6483.

The War on Words – Jan. 2017

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

Media Watch

• Headline in The News Journal: “Taking a Counteroffer Is Never Cut and Dry.” The correct term is cut and dried. The term originated in reference to herbs in herbalists’ shops, as contrasted with growing herbs.
• From an online story on San Antonio Spurs Coach Greg Popovich’s comments on Donald Trump: “Not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenure and tone and all of the comments . . .” The italicized word should be tenor, and we’re assuming it was the reporter’s fault, not the erudite Popovich’s. The same story also referred to “race bating.” That’s baiting. Bating is an obscure word that refers to a hawk’s wings as it attempts to escape the perch.
• From reader Larry Kerchner, of Wilmington: A CNN commentator, talking about the Oval Office meeting between Obama and Trump: “President Obama was the epiphany of class.” The word, of course, is epitome. Amazing.
• Ohio State Football Coach Urban Meyer: “The amount of teams that were worthy of this . . .” Meyer has the same problem as many Americans: they fail to recognize that plurals require the word “number.” It’s similar to less and fewer, in that less refers to amount, and fewer (which doesn’t seem to be in some people’s vocabulary) refers to number.
• And here, in a category all its own, is a random list of misused words and phrases by sports talk personalities—overheard in just one week of listening. Corrections in parentheses:
He was very laxadaisical during the game. (lackadaisical)
His peripheal vision is not good. (peripheral)
He has always been over-evaluated. (over-valued)
He should have ran the ball. (run)
I would have went the other say. (gone)
After that game, I had to go lay down. (lie)

Winner, Winner, Chicken (Steak, Seafood) Dinner

Wilmington lawyer John J. Klusman is the winner of our contest to find the sign, menu, flyer, etc., with the most errors. John was among the “2016 Legal Leaders” who received a notice from ALM Media, a company with offices in New York City, that contained at least nine errors. They ranged from misspellings, misplaced or missing punctuation, to incorrect time references. The winner will receive a gift certificate to a local restaurant. Our thanks to all who entered, and stay tuned for future contests.

Notes of All Sorts

From the bio of Matt Meyer, successful candidate for New Castle County Executive: “Wilmington Friends School Alumnae of the Year.” Really? Then Friends made a mistake. Alumnae is a group of female graduates. Alumnus is the term for a male graduate.
From reader Jane Buck, who found this in Auto, an online site offering advice and features of interest to travelers: “(Regarding arguments over reclining seats) I, as the flight attendant, have to put on my uncomfortable kindergarten-cop hat and try to diffuse and cajole the arguing passengers.” She meant defuse, which means mollify, soothe, resolve. Diffuse, on the other hand, means to spread or cause to spread over a wide area.
Question from daughter Danielle, prompted by her annoyance with Jim Gardner, Philadelphia 6ABC anchor, and his reference to people “waiting on line” at polling places on Nov. 8. “Should we retire this term, used only regionally,” she asks, “now that the Internet has given a whole new meaning to being ‘online,’ and go strictly with the more accurate ‘waiting in line’?” Having never used the term “waiting on line,” our answer is yes.

How Long, Oh Lord, How Long?

(In which we chronicle the continuing misuse of that most abused punctuation mark, the apostrophe.)
This proud Penn State alumnus was embarrassed to note, during ESPN’s coverage of fans displaying slogans and messages prior to the Nittany Lions’ victory over Wisconsin, a sign that read, “Saturday’s Belong to Penn State.”

Follow me on Twitter: @thewaronwords

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

Need a speaker for your organization? Contact me for a fun PowerPoint presentation on grammar: ryearick@comcast.net.

Word of the Month

ennui
Pronounced ahn-we, it’s a noun meaning a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement. Boredom.

Quotation of the Month

“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”
—William Zinsser, On Writing Well

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.)

Follow me on Twitter: @thewaronwords

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

Need a speaker for your organization?
Contact me for a fun PowerPoint presentation on grammar: ryearick@comcast.net.

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.

The War on Words – Nov. 2016

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

Surfing the (Radio) Waves

I continue to torture myself by tuning in to sports talk radio. Here are some random gaffes I heard in just one day of listening (corrections in parentheses):
• “He’s a Michigan alumni” (alumnus).
• “He went nuc-u-lar” (nuclear is pronounced the way it’s spelled: nuke-lee-r).
• “I would have went (gone) with the other guy.”
• “I couldn’t believe the amount (number) of audibles he called.”
• “Because he got fired, I feel badly” (bad, because it does not describe an action, but a feeling. If referring to your sense of touch, then badly would apply).
• And finally: “The truth of the matter is is that . . .” (the dreaded double is).

Media Watch

The first two items come from our favorite, the Wilmington News Journal:
• In an editorial the day after the first presidential debate: “Us grown-ups who did stay up to watch have one thing to say . . .” That’s we grown-ups.
• Quoting a contestant in a sand castle contest at the shore: “You get honed in on it and lose track of time pretty quickly.” Hone means to sharpen, and it needs no preposition, such as “in.” To home in, needed here, is to focus or target.
• From Living Well magazine: “I have been through the gambit of traditional treatments for back and neck pain.” Gamut, meaning range or scope, was the word needed here. Gambit is a ploy or scheme.
• From the New York Times: “Photos showed a man believed to be Mr. Rahami laying on the sidewalk . . .” That should be lying. Lie means to recline; lay mean to place or put.

More Movie Mix-Ups

Following up on the feature we introduced last month, we hereby submit three movie titles that violate grammar rules (setting aside artistic license):
Can’t Hardly Wait – It’s a double negative. The correct title would’ve been (I) Can Hardly Wait.
Marley and Me – Assuming this phrase begins a sentence, it should be Marley and I.
• And two that are missing apostrophes: Two Weeks(’) Notice and The Ladies(’) Man.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

• Sports columnist Bob Nightengale, in USA Today: “The lively crowd, nearing almost 600, even cheered him during calisthenics.” Choose one, Bob: nearing or almost.
• Headline from The News Journal: “Added competition could mean starters’ jobs could be in jeopardy.” Could it, now?
New Yorker gift subscription form: “Additional gifts have been reduced down to just $89.99.” Wait. They haven’t been reduced up?
• And finally, we leave you, dear reader, to determine if this sign outside a Newark church is redundant: “Praise Worship.”

Send a Picture, Win a Prize

And speaking of readers, here’s a new contest for you: Send us pictures of signs, menus or other public postings with grammatical or spelling errors. The picture with the most errors will receive a gift certificate to a local establishment. Send your entries to ryearick@comcast.net. Deadline: Nov. 30.

I am text block. Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

The War on Words – Oct. 2016

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

Facebook Follies

Being on Facebook means never having to pay attention to spelling, punctuation, grammar, or, really, anything resembling proper English. In a feeble attempt to correct some of this errata, here are the (current) most misspelled words, as determined via scientific survey (my personal observations): • It’s cannot (one word), not can not. • Conversely, it’s all right (two words), not alright. • You lose something, you don’t loose it. You can, however, let loose on Facebook. • A female is a woman, not a women! • And (here we go again) you are an alumnus (male) or an alumna (female), not an alumni. (That’s plural.)

Movie Mix-Ups:

As a house party breaks up in Don’t Think Twice, one of the characters tells Keegan-Michael Key that a limousine is coming to pick him up and bring him to the airport. The action (and the limo ride) will be away from the speaker, therefore the proper word is take. As noted previously, the song is not “Bring Me Out to The Ball Game.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Shamed Olympian Ryan Lochte claimed that he “over-exaggerated” in describing his infamous incident in Rio de Janeiro. Similarly, Jenna Bush Hager, George W.’s daughter and sometime correspondent for Today, said that a colleague “over-exaggerated” when she praised Hager’s tennis skills after she hit a few with Venus Williams. Exaggerate means to overstate. From a press release for a new book: “Demia shares some of her own personal experiences.” The italicized words are redundant. And long-time reader Debbie Layton says she was watching synchronized swimming and heard the announcer say that one pair “had trouble seeing each other visually.”

Not So Fast . . .

Speaking of Debbie, she caught a glitch in the September column that resulted from a hasty correction on our part. We cited this sentence from the Pennsylvania Gazette—“The Pentagon people came to us instead of we going to them”—and claimed that “we” should be “us.” But, as Debbie points out, it properly should be our.

Media Watch

• “The Clinton’s are the real predators”— tweet from Donald Trump. Like all semi-literates, he gets apostrophes wrong. We’re betting the sign on his house reads “The Trump’s.” • Nick McCarvel in USA Today: “Work is something Nadal has never been adverse to.” The word Nick was looking for is averse, which means “opposed.” Adverse means “unfavorable,” as in “adverse weather.” • WIP’s Jody McDonald talked about a player being “over-evaluated.” This is a common error among sports talkers. A player can be over-evaluated, but they almost always mean overvalued or overestimated. • From The Washington Post: “They sunk into the white sandy beach that stretches along Disney’s luxe Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.” That’s sank. Another common error among both broadcast and print media. • Similarly, Liz Hernandez, host of Access Hollywood: “And now another lucky newcomer who has sang and danced but never acted.” Should be sung. Courtesy of reader Larry Kerchner. • From the News Journal: “Particularly for those that try to find that authenticity in their food, (the report) is not going to phase them.” That should be faze, of course. Phase is a distinct period or stage in a process of change, as in “the final phase of the war.” • From Humble Heroes, a book about the USS Nashville, a World War II Navy ship, the author writes of a cook who worked “in the boughs of the ship.” That would be bowels. • And finally, in the best-selling Everybody’s Fool, Richard Russo misuses disinterested several times to mean uninterested. Disinterested means “neutral” or “objective.” He also drops “of” from the expression “a couple of,” as in, “he moved a couple blocks away.” Surprisingly, this has become common among some of the best writers.

Word of the Month

vituperative Pronounced vy-TOO-puhr-uh-tiv, it’s an adjective meaning criticizing bitterly; scathing, abusive.

The War on Words – Sept. 2016

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

Close, But No Cigar

I heard a man at the Democratic Convention say, “We are all in agreeance with Joe Biden.” This word got a lot of press more than a decade ago when rocker Fred Durst, lead singer of Limp Bizkit, uttered this at the Grammy Awards: “I just really hope we’re all in agreeance that this war should go away as soon as possible.” Wordsmiths responded with derision, saying it should be agreement. Then some Oxford English Dictionary expert contended that it was a word, but he admitted it had gone out of use in the early 1700s, then made a comeback in the 18th and early 19th centuries. But since then it has again fallen into disuse. Bottom line: it’s wrong. Go with agreement.

Media Watch

• Matt Breen, in The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Pete Mackanin said he is not sure how long Bianco will be out for.” The non-rule about not ending a sentence in a preposition is silly (As Winston Churchill allegedly said, “That is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put.”), but in this case the “for” is totally useless and amateurish.
• USA Today: “What do you get when you cross a international pop star with . . .” Proof once again that “an” is disappearing from the language. Remember, the rule is to use an before a word starting with a vowel sound. Otherwise, use a.
• Phillies radio broadcaster Scott Franzke: “He is leaving a lot of space between he and the shortstop.” Franzke thus joins his TV counterpart, Tom McCarthy, in not recognizing that prepositions such as between require the objective pronoun him.
• Wall Street Journal: “The most basic tenant of the decision is that . . . the death penalty must be decided by the jury.” The correct word is tenet, meaning principle, rule, not tenant, meaning a renter of land or property.
• Keith Pompey, in the Inquirer, scored a double: “In addition to being solid from the three-point line, the Sixers are getting a good locker room guy.” This is a dangling modifier; it’s the guy who’s good from the three-point line, not the Sixers. Same story: “They want to have a face-to-face meeting with Waiters to squash the concerns about the South Philly native.” The word is quash. Common mistake.
• The University of Pennsylvania Gazette: “The Pentagon people came to us instead of we going over there.” Should be “us,” of course—again, object of the preposition. And from an Ivy League publication yet.
• The News Journal: “Wendell Smallwood didn’t have a big viewing party, just him and his immediate family at their home in Smyrna.” Here, the subjective case is needed—he.
• And finally, we have this from Donald Trump, who spoke of “picking up” on the emails of Hillary Clinton: “Believe me, I’m going to pick up bigly.” As usual with Trump’s comments, I have no rational reaction.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

(Note that the word of the month, tautology, describes this department.)
There are phrases that have been accepted for years that simply don’t pass muster here. Two examples:
• Compare and contrast. This is a classic tautology popular with high school teachers everywhere. Note to them: just make it compare. If one is comparing two things, there will naturally be contrasts.
• Sooner rather than later. This is a favorite of loquacious people, especially those in TV and radio. Just make it “soon.”

Movie Gaffes

Herewith a new category, in which we point out misuses, misspellings, and general semi-literacy in random movies.
In 2012’s Parental Guidance, Bill Crystal says to Bette Midler: “You must’ve sang that to the kids a hundred times.” Sung is the past participle of sing.
From Manhunter (1986): A headline in a newspaper reads “FBI Persues Pervert.” That’s pursues.

Noticed any movie gaffes? Send ‘em in.

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Word of the Month

tautology
Pronounced taw-tol-uh-jee, it’s a noun meaning the saying of the same thing twice in different words; a redundancy.

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The War on Words – Aug. 2016

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

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Two from the sports world:
• Geno Auriemma, Connecticut women’s basketball coach, commenting on the passing of legendary coach Pat Summitt: “She was a precursor of things to come.” Precursor: “Something that comes before something else.”
• Neal Rudel, of the Altoona (Pa.) Mirror: “James Franklin was upbeat in seeing Moorhead’s first public debut.” Can’t wait for his second debut.
And one from the news desk:
• Jim Donovan, co-anchor on CBS channel 3, talking about the body count in a recent mass shooting: “There’s little doubt it is going to escalate upwards.” Y’think, Jim? It won’t escalate downwards?

Media Watch

• Lara Spencer, co-host on Good Morning America, committed the dreaded double is: “The cool thing is is that . . .”
The News Journal, quoting John Flaherty: “Delaware is no different then most states when it comes to binding of delegates on the first ballot.” John should have said “from,” but I’m assuming he said “than,” which TNJ mistranslated to the much worse then.
• Deion Sanders on Twitter: “Pat Summitt & Buddy Ryan, architects of their prospective sports.” That would be respective sports. Deion attended Florida State to play football, not attend English class.
•Zach Berman in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Pederson said Carson Wentz would continue to get an equal amount of reps as Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel. . . Pederson has made sure there was an even amount of work with the first-, second- and third-team offense.” Zach was wrong the first time (it’s number of reps) and right the second.
• Abbey Mastracco, also in the Inky: “The sound that comes from Mickey Moniak’s bat emanates through the ballpark.” The sound emanates from his bat and reverberates through the ballpark.
• A reader sends this from a Washington Post advice column: “For years she’s been recounting people with the story of how…” Our reader notes that, “since only census-takers re-count people, the writer should have said either ‘regaling people with’ or ‘recounting the story.’”
• After losing an on-air debate, Mike Missanelli of 97.5 FM said, “I went out on my sword.” You fall on your sword; you go out on your shield. The first is essentially sacrificing yourself for a greater cause, the second is fighting to the bitter end.

More on Commas

Last month we discussed misplaced commas in relation to quotation marks (they go inside the quotes) and missing commas when addressing someone (E.g., “thanks, Mary,” not “thanks Mary”). Now let’s tackle the unnecessary comma in a person’s title, in such sentences as “The meeting was called to order by Chairman of the Board, Don Smith.” Many people insist on inserting a comma before the title. Note to them: don’t.

Literally of the Month

Karen Heller in the Washington Post: “This is a golden age of comedy, literally.” She went on to list several comedians who are making big bucks. Maybe if they were paid in gold. But even then. . .

How Long, Oh Lord, How Long?

(In which we chronicle the abuse of that most misused punctuation mark, the apostrophe.)IMG_0456-cmyk
On a recent foray into upstate Pennsylvania I came across the two signs pictured at right. The wooden one is typical of erroneous signs that appear outside many homes. This is a simple plural—Eichenlaubs. No apostrophe. As for the other sign, I wonder: Why doesn’t “LPS” rate an apostrophe? If you’re going to be wrong, at least be consistently wrong. And what’s with the capital S?

Seen any obvious errors on signs, menus, brochures, etc.? Grab a picture and send it to War.

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

Word of the Month: louche
Pronounced loosh, it’s an adjective meaning disreputable or sordid in a rakish or appealing way.

Need a speaker for your organization?
Contact me for a fun power point presentation on grammar: ryearick@comcast.net.

The War on Words – July 2016

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

Misplaced Quotation Marks

Here, hands down, is the most common punctuation mistake: misplaced quotation marks. Or, put another way, misplaced commas and periods.

Commas and periods go inside quotation marks, and that rule applies whether the quotation appears at the end of a sentence, after a phrase, or after a single word. Examples:
• “My biggest fear is failure.”
• Calling failure his “biggest fear,” Smith nevertheless accepted the challenge.
• The mayor claimed the story was “preposterous.”
Yes, I know this seems and looks counter-intuitive, and it’s not done this way in other English-speaking countries. For those reasons, most people get it wrong (even some of my most learned readers). Don’t think you’re making this mistake? Go back over your emails or your posts on Facebook. You just may find that you’re putting periods and commas outside quotation marks. Check on it. Report back.

Miss-Addressed: The Missing Comma

Another common punctuation error is the missing comma in sentences where someone or something is being addressed. A comma should be inserted immediately before that person or thing. Take this example from a News Journal editorial: “So have at it Delaware, it’s your Constitutional right.” There should be a comma after “it.”

The same applies if the addressee appears at the beginning of the sentence: “Mary, you always have a positive attitude.”

The missing comma can change the meaning of a sentence. E.g., The father said, “Your grades are disappointing, my boy” is correct, but it you delete the comma—“Your grades are disappointing my boy”—it reads as if the boy is being disappointed.

Facebook is full of these missing commas/confusing messages. Here are actual examples:

“I want one Eddie.” (The writer apparently wants one Eddie.)

“Good morning bright eyes.” (Bright eyes are good in the morning.)

“What a beautiful photo of you Mary.” (Is the woman’s name “you Mary”?)

Awash in Iconic Icons

Word Warrior Walt DelGiorno has convinced us that “iconic” and, to a lesser extent, “icon,” are currently the most over-used words in American media. This applies especially to the sport of golf. Walt, a dedicated golf-watcher, has accumulated several examples. Among them:

• Announcer Gary Koch described the 17th hole at The Players Championship as “an iconic hole.”
Golf magazine referred to “Johnny Miller’s iconic round at Oakmont.”
• An AP story called the Oakmont Country Club “an iconic test.”
The phenomenon isn’t limited to golf. Mercedes Benz ads refer to the “iconic design” of its early models, which delivered “icon after icon.” The Beatles have been described as having conducted “iconic recording sessions.” And The News Journal recently called the DuPont buildings “iconic on the Wilmington skyline.”

The media is apparently averse to the words “legendary,” “fabled,” “famous,” or “well-known.”

Media Watch

• Speaking of “averse,” it’s often confused with “adverse,” as in this excerpt from a recent Jeff Zillgitt story in USA Today: “Crawford . . . was not adverse to confrontation.” Adverse means “unfavorable,” as in adverse weather. Averse means “opposed to.”
• From the Newark Post, courtesy of reader Jane Buck: “A sign inside the restaurant on Monday eluding to the delay . . .” The sign was alluding (referring) to the delay, it wasn’t eluding (escaping from) anything.
• Reader Rob Beatson submits this from CBS Sports Online: “The Philadelphia Phillies keep finding ways to eek out victories.” The correct word is eke. Adds Rob: “And it’s the lead, of course. Eek!”

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rectitude
Pronounced rek-ta-tood, it’s a noun meaning morally correct behavior or thinking; righteousness.

Need a speaker for your organization?
Contact me for a fun power point presentation on grammar: ryearick@comcast.net.