The War On Words – July 2015

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


• A News Journal columnist, describing a letter from his Uncle Tony: “[It was] written . . . on thick, unlined stationary.” It was stationery that Uncle Tony wrote on, although he was probably stationary at the time.
• Similarly, many people don’t know that a hangar is where planes are kept, while hangers are used to store clothes in your closet.
• A WDEL announcer called an earthquake “a trembler.” An understandable mistake, since the word is temblor.

Grammar-Challenged Slogans

In the spirit of the old-time ad that claimed Miller Lite contained “a third less calories,” we note a trend among advertisers to sacrifice good grammar in the name of supposedly clever slogans. Some that we’ve noticed (all of which seem to be in the form of commands):
• “Achieve Greater”—Goldey Beacom College.
• “Go Further”—Ford (Farther, referring to distance, would be more accurate for a car, although they could be speaking metaphorically).
• “Live Fearless”—Independence Blue Cross.
We’re sure there are more. Send in your examples.

Media Watch

• Call this the buried subject. A caption in The News Journal read: “A list of target infrastructures were released by DelDOT . . .” The subject of the sentence is not infrastructures but list, so it should be “was released.”
• Again, from TNJ: “‘It’s important to always air on the side of caution,’ says Kevin Charles.” The word the reporter was groping for, of course, was err.
• Sports radio host Dan Patrick, speaking of a guest’s songwriting efforts: “He hasn’t quite flushed that out yet.” Like many people, Dan confuses “flushed out” with the proper “fleshed out.”
• Later in the week, again speaking about music, Patrick was heard to say: “Bo Ryan would’ve sang along with it.” That’s sung, Dano.


Despite an unending deluge of bad grammar, punctuation, syntax and pronunciation in the media and elsewhere, we find the occasional bright spot. This month, we present three of those shining lights.

First, in what would normally fall under “Literally of the Month,” we call attention to one of our own writers—the estimable Larry Nagengast. In his story on the Riverfront in the June issue, Larry mentioned Legends Stadium (later renamed Frawley Stadium), and wrote this: “At the time [1992], the stadium was, literally and figuratively, pretty much the only diamond on the banks of the Christina.” That, my friends, is the way to use “literally.”

And under a new category, Word Warrior, we congratulate reader Walt DelGiorno. A retired teacher and tireless grammarian, Walt watches (and plays) a lot of golf, and finds most golf announcers and shows woefully lacking in language skills. He noticed that CBS broadcasts inserted incorrect apostrophes in references to pars—e.g., “par 3’s, par 4’s, and par 5’s.” He emailed the network about the error and received no answer. But a short while later, he noticed that CBS had removed the offending apostrophes. We have used several of Walt’s items in the past, and he always refuses credit, but in this case we talked him into allowing us to publish his name. Congratulations, Walt DelGiorno, our very first Word Warrior.

Do you have an achievement in the War on Words that would qualify you as our second Word Warrior? Send it in.

And finally: I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones, and Stannis Baratheon recently became my favorite character on the show. In an early episode this season, someone said, “That will mean less enemies for all of us.” “Fewer,” the stellar Stannis corrected. To which we add, bravo!

The War On Words – June 2015

The Missing Comma

Some people use too many commas. But one area where many of us neglect the required comma is in greetings. For example: Happy anniversary, Joan. Thanks, Mom. Please respond quickly, everyone.
So remember that the next time you’re on Facebook sending birthday greetings to Cousin Larry.

Pet Peeve No. 210

One of my many pet peeves is the disappearance of the word “lend” from our vocabulary. Remember “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ear”? Today, it would be “loan me your ear.” Doesn’t have a good ring to it, does it? I prefer “loan” strictly as a noun. It is acceptable as a verb when it denotes the lending of money (as distinguished from the lending of things). Even then, lend is preferable. Everyone, please note.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

A story came to me for editing that contained this phrase: “The general rule of thumb is . . .” A rule of thumb is “a general principle regarded as roughly correct.”

Subject/Verb Agreement

The media continues to miss the mark when it comes to this basic tenet of grammar. Examples:
• Submitted by reader Jane Buck: “There’s been many fewer soirees this century”—from a New York Times email alert. Soirees is plural, so it should read “There have been fewer.”
• Similarly, from a headline in the News Journal: “There’s other revenue sources than taxpayer revenue.” There are sources.
• Again from the News Journal: “Schools give a test called ‘Accuplacer’ to determine whether students’ knowledge of basic math and writing skills meet standards.” It requires a little work, but the writer should have ferreted out the subject, which is knowledge. Therefore, the verb should be meets.
• Joe Juliano, in the Philadelphia Inquirer sports pages: “Players knowing the coaches have been a major factor [in Penn State’s improvement].” Knowing is the subject, so the verb should be has been.

Pass the Relish

Anthony Gargano on Philly’s 97.5 FM: “I relish in the excitement about the draft.”
You can’t “relish in” something. You simply relish a victory—no “in” required. You can, however, “revel in” a victory. The similarity of these two expressions seems to cause a mix-up, even among more literate writers, such as the News-Journal’s Maureen Milford: “[Ellen Kullman’s defenders] . . . relish in that [support] since she took the helm in 2009.”
This gaffe is threatening to take over the No. 1 spot from the execrable “hone in” for “home in.”
Writers of all abilities and literacy levels, please note.

Media Watch

• “Alex Ovechkin scores while laying on his stomach”—ESPN announcer. To lay is to place something. To lie is to recline or be prone. The Washington Capitals star was lying on his stomach when he scored.
• From USA Today’s Jon Saraceno: “Instead, Mayweather took a different tact, quietly deploying a subtle psychological-warfare approach. . .” Tack was the word Jon was groping for. Nautical in origin, a tack is a course or an approach. When switching courses or taking a different approach, one changes tack. Tact is sensitivity in social situations. Some people, like Saraceno, think of it as short for tactic. And as an aside, “quietly deploying a subtle approach”? A little redundant.
• Reader Larry Kerchner reports that a WDEL TrafficWatch reporter commented on the traffic on the bridge “over top I-95.” Says Larry: “I think the traffic under bottom I-95 was okay.”
• From the News Journal: “He wishes more police would emulate the example of Det. Shane Sowden, who kept he and his wife Cecelia apprised at every step of the investigation.” The verb kept requires the objective pronoun him. We wonder: Would the writers (this was a co-bylined piece) have written “he” if the wife was not involved—“who kept he apprised”?
• News Journal again: “[the law requiring motorcycle riders] to wear a helmet is in legislative purgatory.” That would be limbo, since it’s being held in suspension, not being punished.

Word of the Month

Frangible: Pronounced FRAN-juh-buhl, it’s an adjective meaning readily broken; breakable.

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The War on Words – May 2015

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

Media Watch

The first three below are from the good ol’ Wilmington News Journal:
• “However, 10 council staff members are currently at the top of that pay scale, including some whose wages have been stagnate for several years.” Stagnant, the adjective, was needed here. Stagnate is the verb.
• Subhead from the sports page: “Lydia Olivere makes seemless move to varsity competition.” Seamless is the proper word. Seemless? Not a word.
• “The $2.7 million will be split between four different organizations.” Use among when referring to more than two items or people. Oh, and why is “different” needed?
• From the usually literate Jim Miklaszewski, on NBC: “They apparently stoled the van.” Really, Jim? Haven’t heard that one since grade school.
• And a reporter on the CBS show Sunday Morning committed the dreaded “whole nother subject” gaffe. As we’ve pointed out before, nother is not a word.

More Media

Word Warrior gleanings from a single weekend of electronic sports media monitoring:
• “Wisconsin commits the least fouls per game in the Big 10.” That’s fewest. Remember: amount or singular = least; number or plural = fewest.
• “He should return it back” – (ESPN anchor commenting on Phil Mikelson’s broken golf club).
• “There’s a lot of Kool-Aid being drank down there” (WIP sports talk radio host commenting on the Eagles). It’s drunk, pal.
• And during the NCAA tournament, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski referred to “the powers to be.” That’s powers that be. A moment’s thought by someone as intelligent as Coach K should make him realize his mistake.

More Clarifications

Krzyzewski’s gaffe brings to mind other words and phrases that people misuse constantly. Among the most obvious is “tongue in cheek,” which is often inexplicably conflated into tongue and cheek.

A reader pinpoints another common near-miss, noting that she often sees “renown” used in the following way: “world-renown designer” or “world-renown chef.” The correct adjective is renowned. Renown, meaning fame, celebrity, is a noun.
Another incredible mistake is the mangling of “all intents and purposes” into “all intensive purposes.” Some people are convinced the latter is correct. Note to them: It’s not.

And a reader says she recently saw an article about health insurance that contained this:

“The U.S. Supreme Court is about to take on a challenging case that could change a major tenant of Obamacare.” That’s tenet, which means principle or theory. A tenant, or course, is an occupant or renter.

Gamut and gambit are also frequently confused. An amateurish reviewer, for instance, may laud an actor for “running the emotional gambit from sorrow to joy.” The correct word is gamut, which is a range, or scale. A gambit is a ploy or strategy.

And finally, a letter to the editor of the News Journal spotlights another mix-up: Referring to the Delaware Congressional delegation, the writer asks, “Are they adverse to such meetings?” He meant averse—unwilling or disinclined. Adverse means unfavorable, contrary or hostile, as in “adverse weather conditions.”

A and An

It’s truly appalling how many people rarely use an. “I am a Eagles fan” is a common refrain in sports talk radio. Using these indefinite articles depends on the sound that begins the next word. If the word begins with a vowel sound (elephant, egg, apple, Eagles), use an. If it begins with a consonant sound (boy, car, bike, zoo), use a. For a silent h (hour), use an. If the h is pronounced (horse), go with a.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

In the popular Netflix series House of Cards, President Underwood’s press secretary reprimands a reporter thusly: “You disrespected your fellow colleagues.”

In the “not necessarily redundant, but superfluous” department, we note that many folks employ the phrase “kind of a” in such sentences as “what kind of a car do you want?” The “a” is not only superfluous, but unsophisticated.

Word of the Month:

Saturnine: Pronounced SAT-uhr-nyn, it’s an adjective meaning sluggish, gloomy, cold.

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The War On Words – Apr 2015

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


Athletes and sports commentators have a language all their own. A few examples, along with our admonitions to the perpetrators:
• Phillies Coach Larry Bowa, commenting on former Phil Darren Daulton (who is recovering from cancer): “He looks good. He was over my house yesterday.” Really, Larry? Dutch was hovering above your domicile?
• Michael Carter-Williams, late of the 76ers, now with the Milwaukee Bucks: “I try to emulate my game after Jason Kidd.” MCW, my man, you emulate Kidd by fashioning/modeling your game after that of the Bucks head coach.
• Announcer at NCAA wrestling tournament, commenting on the Iowa coach’s philosophy and his team’s acceptance of same: “They have boughten into it.” Not a word, dude.
• Radio/TV personality Dan Patrick: “The Seahawks should’ve put themselves in a less riskier position.” You committed the double comparative there, Danny boy. It’s “less risky.”

Sure and Begorrah

A couple of weeks before St. Patrick’s Day, we received a note from the very Irish Mary Kate McKenna, of Wilmington, reminding us that the nickname for the holiday is St. Paddy’s Day, not St. Patty’s. (We had it right in a story in the March issue). Mary Kate says this annual gaffe on banners, invitations, menus, etc., drives her Dublin-born hubby “‘round the bend.” Patty, she points out, is the nickname for Patricia.


Reocurring is not a word. It’s sometimes used instead of recurring, which means happening or occurring again.

A reader asks us to explain the difference between farther and further. Here ‘tis: the first refers to physical distance; the second covers time or figurative/metaphorical distance.

An Annoying Habit

The execrable “hone in” for “home in” trend continues unabated. Frequent contributor Larry Kerchner reports that a recent crawl (the continuous verbiage appearing at the bottom of your TV screen) on CCN Newsroom read: “Authorities hone in on terrorist cells.” Comments LK: “Maybe they used honing pigeons. I can see them now, laboring over their little whetstones.” (Hone means to sharpen).

Talk About Irony

Just read an online discussion of frequently misused words that included this sentence: “This is the kind of mistake we are often pray to.” That would be prey.


Mike Dinsmore, of Elsmere, points out that a recent O&A story contained the phrase “waiting on a bus.” Mike notes that it’s “impossible to wait on a bus, unless one was serving food and drink to the people on the bus, or if one was seated on (or atop) the bus, awaiting its departure.” Waiting for a bus is the correct term, of course. “I think the Rolling Stones have a lot to answer for in this matter,” says Mike. “Their 1981 song, ‘Waiting on a Friend,’ certainly did not help matters.”

Measurement Literacy

• Light-year: This term measures distance, not time, as it might suggest. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year (about 5.88 trillion miles). Thus, to say “I read that book light years ago” would be wrong.
• Walter Frank, of Wilmington, notes that the media (and everyone else) are being redundant when they refer to “a high rate of speed.” Says Walter: “Even a high school physics student should know that speed can be defined as the ‘the rate at which something moves.’ So, ‘high rate of speed’ equates to ‘the rate of the rate at which something moves.’ A really astute high school physics student also might observe that this sounds somewhat like ‘acceleration.’ That is the rate at which the speed of a moving object changes over time.”

Media Watch

• “The public believes the U.S. economy unfairly advantages the wealthy”—Claire Snyder-Hall, in The News Journal. Advantages as a verb? Really?
• USA Today’s Paul Myerberg says Joe Paterno didn’t want a statue of himself erected, describing Paterno as “disinterested” in the proposal. That means neutral, but it sounds so much more sophisticated than the correct uninterested, doesn’t it?

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Word of the Month

Pronounced kar-rul, it’s a noun meaning a small cubicle with a desk for the use of a reader or student in a library.

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The War On Words – Mar 2015

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

Close, But Not Quite

A reader cites a News Journal story that includes this quote: “The community is going to get angry in a way that is going to illicit voluntary compliance.” The verb the writer was groping for is elicit, meaning to evoke or draw out. Illicit is an adjective meaning forbidden by law or rules.

This reminds us that many words and terms are misused because they sound similar to the correct form. Among them: adverse/averse—adverse is something harmful, as in adverse weather; averse means “opposed, unwilling, disinclined”; defuse/diffuse—defuse literally means to remove the fuse from (such as an explosive device), while the non-literal meaning is “to reduce danger or tension.” The verb diffuse means to spread out or scatter; hone in/home in—hone means to sharpen, but it increasingly is used in place of “home in,” which means to focus on or target; taken aback/taken back—the latter is incorrect, but it sounds right, and “taken aback” (to be startled or surprised), though correct, sounds a bit archaic; subscribe/ascribe—you subscribe to a view or a philosophy, you don’t ascribe to it. Ascribe is to attribute something to (a cause, a person, etc.); perspective/prospective—the first is a viewpoint, the second means potential, future, as in “a prospective candidate for the job.”

Them Those Politicians

In the absence of a Joe Biden item, we have State Rep. John Kowalko (Newark), who joins those on sports talk radio who think “them” is an adjective as well as a pronoun. Kowalko recently referred to “… them shylocks that they have down there”— referring to Gov. Markell and some others in Dover. He later apologized for using the ethnically-charged “shylock,” but not for “them.”

P.R. Types, Please Note

A comma should not follow a title that immediately precedes a name—e.g., it’s “Chairman of the Board John Doe,” not “Chairman of the Board, John Doe.”

Full Circle

“My career was sputtering until I did a 360 and got headed in the right direction” —Tracy McGrady, former NBA player. We’re guessing (hoping?) Tracy meant “a 180.”

Oh, Those Objects of Prepositions

Once again we have a TV sports announcer who disregards the rule about prepositions requiring objective pronouns. A reader reports that during a golf tournament, the announcer made this comment about one of the pros: “I was talking to he and his caddie…” The reader makes a telling point: “I wonder if the guy would have said ‘I was talking to he’ if he was speaking to just the pro.” He, of course, should have been replaced by him. But, hey, that sounds inelegant, doesn’t it?

Annoying Trends

“Welcome in”—used especially by TV and radio hosts, as in “welcome in to the show.” A simple “welcome” would suffice.

“Based off of” instead of “based on.” This is becoming rampant.

“Add on” or “add in” instead of a simple “add.”

And let’s agree to cut down on the use of “awesome” to describe, well, anything that’s remotely impressive. Awesome actually means “inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Rufus Bayard, of Greenville, says he has heard the term “unmanned drone” uttered on ABC, NBC and CBS. “Drone,” says Rufus, “by definition is unmanned.”

We also note that adding a time element when referring to a boat or ship’s speed (“five knots per hour”) is redundant, since a knot is one nautical mile (1.15 miles) per hour.

Literally of the Month

“Jennifer Aniston not getting an Oscar nomination literally broke my heart”: a commentator on Entertainment Tonight.

Word of the Month: facile

Pronounced FAsl, it’s an adjective meaning simplistic, superficial,
oversimplified, jejune, glib; e.g., “a facile explanation.”

Quotation of the Month

“There is nothing which is really unnecessary or unessential in a well-written or well-spoken English sentence. Every word, phrase, and clause is used to convey and impress the author’s or the speaker’s meaning. This is one of the tests of good speaking and good writing.”
—Richard Wilson, Precis, Notes, and Summaries 21 (1925)

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The War on Words – Feb 2015

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

Grammatically-Challenged Holiday Greetings

IMG_0019Once again, on Jan. 1 and for days thereafter, we heard the greeting “happy New Years.” Makes us wonder about the rationale behind such a wish. Is the person hoping that all of our remaining New Years will be happy? Doubt it. Methinks it’s simply a linguistic absurdity learned in childhood—and never unlearned.

We also received a Christmas card wishing us “Happy Holiday’s.” The aberrant apostrophe is everywhere!

Media Watch

• A sideline reporter at a Kentucky basketball game called a player “one of the team’s most feistiest.” Here’s the thing: If a word ends in –est, never put “most” in front of it. That’s a double superlative. Put another way, if you use “most,” the next word should never end in –est.
• A reader calls out the nearly perfect New York Times for the phrase “guild the lily.” That’s gild (a verb) the lily. The noun guild means an organization of people with similar interests, goals, etc.

Rejection of the Objective

The media—and everyone else—continue to incorrectly use subjective pronouns (I, he, she, we, they) after prepositions because, we suspect, they sound more elegant than the correct objective pronouns (me, him, her, us, them).
Example: A recent discussion between 97.5 sports talker Mike Missanelli and his producer as to whether the correct phrase is “between you and I” or “between you and me.” The producer argued for “I.” Missanelli—a communications graduate of (gulp!) Penn State—wasn’t so sure. The preposition “between” requires the objective case—me.
Similarly, an ESPN announcer sympathized with Auburn’s kicker, saying the Outback Bowl ended in “heartbreak for he and Auburn.” That would be “him and Auburn,” of course.

Cosby Gleanings

Friends of the apparently morally-challenged Bill Cosby seem to be grammatically challenged. Singer Jill Scott redundantly defended him against “alleged allegations,” while another friend asked why the media needed to “drudge up” past events. Some in the media may indeed be drudges, but the verb is “dredge up.”

Bring, Take

These terms are challenging for many. Bring often is used where take is correct. Reader Randall Hedrick, of Elsmere, cites an example: “I once had a boss who had an Ed.D degree, yet in spite of that, stood in front of the entire office one morning and said, ‘I had a wonderful weekend . . . I brought my daughter to the movies.”

“I spontaneously corrected him by muttering ‘took my daughter.’ He snipped, ‘Language is fluid!’

“I softly began singing ‘Bring Me Out To The Ball Game,’ and he walked away.”
To review: Take is used in relation to starting point. We take things or people from the place we are to another place. Bring means to carry or transport something or someone to the speaker.

Err-otica (as opposed to erotica)

The wire that supports utility poles continues to give the electronic media problems. WDEL recently referred to an accident in which a vehicle hit a “utility pole guide wire,” and a national radio network announcer used “guide wire” twice in referring to a parachutist who got hung up on a support wire. Those are guy wires, sometimes simply referred to as “guys.” The word comes from the Old French “guier,” meaning—you guessed it—“to guide.”

In Defense of The Chipper

A recent WIP caller described Eagles Coach Chip Kelly as both “narcissistic” and “egomaniacal.” They’re not the same. Essentially, a narcissist has an excessive or erotic interest in himself and his physical appearance. The term is derived from the hunter Narcissus, who was so in love with his own image that he drowned in his reflection in a pool. We doubt that Chipper is narcissistic; he doesn’t seem to give much attention to his appearance. And while he has a strong ego, “egomaniacal”—with all its psychological undertones—may be an overstatement.

Word of the Month

Pronounced EN-truh-pee, it’s a noun meaning a measure of the disorder in a system or the natural tendency of things to decline into disorder. Randomness, chaos.

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The War on Words – Dec 2014

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

Department of Redundancies Dept.

In The New Yorker, of all places, we found this in a story on ballerina Misty Copeland: “I met a friend of hers, eighty-year-old Raven Wilkinson, an elegant older woman . . .” Eighty and older? Ya think?
“The point is is that”: a lawyer on Imus in the Morning, talking about gun control. The “double is” continues to rear its ugly—and redundant—head.

Commerce, Maybe. Grammar, No Way

The New Castle County Chamber of Commerce website published a bio of the “Business Woman of the Year,” noting that “Her and her husband . . . love history, antiques, people and animals.” Her is a possessive. She would have been the correct pronoun.

Media Watch

• In a letter to the News Journal, the chairman of Delaware Democrats wrote: “It is not our fault they [Republicans] have ran candidates with no messages….” The chairman was groping for have run here.
• Democrats aren’t alone in their confusion over the present perfect verb tense. Take sportswriters, for instance—like Matt Breen of The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Brown told the team that ‘their friend, their teammate’ has went through an incredible, personal tragedy.” That would be “has gone.”
• Peter MacArthur on WDEL: “Less young people are driving nowadays.” People is plural, therefore fewer is required here. Unfortunately, for many people, the word “fewer” simply doesn’t exist.
• Similarly, the consistently grammar-challenged Mika Brzezinski, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, uttered this recently: “Next, a report on a state that is reducing the amount of prisoners being executed.” Again, a plural—prisoners—means that number is the word Mika should have chosen.
• The almost-infallible Ray Didinger, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a sportswriter, committed this error recently as a 94.1WIP talker: “I don’t know if that’s the tact he [Eagles Coach Chip Kelly] will take.” The word Ray wanted was “tack,” which is of nautical origin and means course or approach. Tact, of course, means diplomacy, discretion. Tact’s similarity to tactic (scheme, maneuver) probably has something to do with this common mix-up.
• Not “media” exactly, but a reader reports that, in a program for a Delaware Theatre Company production, Executive Director Bud Martin said: “Thank you for welcoming my team and I.” It’s “my team and me,” the latter being the object of the verb “welcoming.”

How Long, Oh, Lord, How Long?

(In which we document the continued abuse of that most misused punctuation mark, the apostrophe).
Once again, we go to our default culprit, the News Journal. In a story in the Oct. 26 edition, one of our readers found this: …”with it’s growing prosperity . . .” That should be its (the possessive—no apostrophe).
And an online NJ photo had this caption: “The Newark Halloween Parade makes it’s way down Main Street on Sunday afternoon . . .” See previous comment.


• It’s vale of tears, not “veil,” as some people think. In this ancient idiom, “vale” means “world.”
• Methodology is a popular “synonym” for “method,” especially in corporate America, where language is pummeled daily. Methodology means “the science or study of method.”
• Any equestrians out there? How about horsemen and horsewomen? Ah, but I repeat myself. Anyway, I have always believed that those flared-at-the-thighs riding pants favored by riders (along with short, black jackets and black helmets) were called “jod-furs” and spelled similarly: Jodphurs. Not so, according to a recent “Usage Tip” from Bryan Garner. Seems the spelling is Jodhpur and pronounced JOD-puhr. The name (almost always used in the plural) is derived from the city of Jodhpur, India. According to Garner, the error even pervades the horse-riding industry.

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Word of the Month:

Pronounced kee méera, it’s a noun meaning an illusion or fabrication of the mind; especially an unrealizable dream, a fancy. E.g., “Economic stability in that country is a chimera.”

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The War On Words – Nov 2014

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

How Long, Oh, Lord, How Long?

(Inwhichwedocumentthecontinuedabuseofthatmostmisused punctuation mark, the apostrophe). Once again, the Wilmington News Journal makes a contribution with this Oct. 1 “What’s Cooking” headline: “Apple’s aren’t just sweet; try these savory dishes.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.

A WDEL reporter spoke of a bridge that “spans over” the Christina River.

A Janssen’s Market commercial calls the store “truly unique.” As we know—don’t we, gang?—unique means one of a kind. So to call something truly unique is redundant.

And a reader asks why people feel the need to add “of” in such phrases as “too deep of a hole,” “too hard of a day,” and “how big of a difference”?

Media Watch (Our thanks to readers for several of these)

• “Each six-pack bares a map of coastal Delaware . . .”—letter to the editor of the News Journal. Better to have chosen bears, as in “presents,” rather than a word that relates to naked.
• A News Journal story on Prime Hook Beach had this quote: “When I moved here, I had no idea of this brew-ha-ha.” No, the person was not speaking of a coffee shop, but of a controversy —a brouhaha.

• Again from the good ol’ NJ, a source was quoted thus: “The hope is to get 10,000 people to see the exhibit over the 11 weeks it’s running, and we think that’s imminently doable . . .” As is often the case, the reporter either misheard or simply didn’t know the word the source was using. In this case, that word is eminently. Imminently refers to something that will occur at any moment. • From the Newark Post: “‘We’re not teaching a painting class, per say,’ she said.” That would be per se.

• Ex Major Leaguer Harold Baines on the Dan Patrick Show: “He can relish in the big win.” This is becoming epidemic, especially among sports commentators. You simply relish, you don’t relish in. You can, however, revel in a victory.

• A sports talker on 97.5 “The Fanatic” referred to himself as “a Temple alumni.” He’s one person, and thus an alumnus, even though Temple may not be especially proud of having granted him a diploma.

• And it recently occurred to me that WDEL’s tagline, “Broadcasting live from Wilmington, Delaware, you’re listening to WDEL,” is a dangling participle. I mean, you’re not broadcasting live from Wilmington.

My New Pet Peeve

People who pronounce words like strong and straight “shtrong” and “shtraight.” Why do they insist on using that sh sound?

Spot the Errors

Time for another “War” contest. Below is a piece of doggerel submitted by dedicated reader Larry Kerchner. It contains many errors—how many, I won’t stipulate. Some are debatable, and I’m willing to listen to your arguments, should we disagree. Send me your revision (with explanations where you think necessary). We will search the old O&A treasure bin for a suitable prize for the first reader to spot all the errors.

Incase you haven’t noticed, there’s been alot of mispelled words in use around this state for awhile now. I see them alot everyday, and everytime I do I ask myself, “What’s instore for the English language?” Should I just say, “It will be alright?” I’m in Delaware 30 years now, and it still literally gives me a pit in my stomach!


Once again, we must remind the benighted out there that especially is not pronounced “ek-specially.” There is only one c in the word, it appears near the middle, and it is soft, not hard. Similarly, etcetera is not pronounced ek-setera. It’s et-setera.

The War on Words – Oct 2014

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

Media Watch

The following are all from the Wilmington News Journal. The first two demonstrate a nicety of the English language —one the NJ apparently isn’t familiar with. The possessive is needed in these sentences because it is the act, not the person, that is being discussed (correct word in parentheses):
• From a subhead on an editorial—“The creepiness factor; Apps that can determine where you are—without you (your) knowing it.” (And “apps” shouldn’t be capitalized following a semi-colon).

• From a story quoting the mayor’s spokesperson: “Coppadge also said that Ciotti’s support of Kelley two years ago was not a factor in him (his) not being selected for a promotion.”

• In a column strewn with otherwise literate words such as “métier,” “locus” and “abhorrent,” Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg surprisingly committed this all-too-common error: “Why do I find this incident to be more disturbing then, say, reported attacks on…” Spellcheck notes the misuse of then for than in this sentence.

• And finally, three readers sent us this from an NJ Sunday edition: “Representatives for the second- and third-largest water providers in the state, Tidewater Utilities and United Water, tow the same line.” The term is “toe the line,” and is used either in the metaphorical sense, meaning to conform to a rule or standard, or in the literal sense, meaning to stand poised at the starting line in a footrace. No pulling or towing of a line is implied.

More on Homophones

Tow/toe are homophones. As noted in the August column, homophones are words that are pronounced the same but differ in meaning and often differ in spelling. Defuse/diffuse doesn’t quite qualify as a homophone, since the pronunciations are slightly different (dee fyóoz, di fyóoz, respectively), but they are close enough to confuse many writers, such as the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Gelb, who recently wrote: “Sandberg diffused the situation [with Cole Hamels] with his talk.”
Defused, the word Gelb should have used, means to remove a fuse (from a bomb, for example) or to make a situation less dangerous, harmful, or tense.
Diffuse means to spread out or scatter. As an adjective, it means widely spread or wordy.

How Long, Oh, Lord, How Long?

carts(In which we document the continued abuse of that most misused punctuation mark, the apostrophe). As was the case last month, we have a missing apostrophe, and once again, the always reliable News Journal provides our example (correct word in parens): “‘I think its (it’s) more of a campaign finance façade,’ said Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle.”

And a reader sends in the photo at right, from a thrift store in Central Pennsylvania. Notice the word “cart’s.” Got a “How Long, Oh, Lord?” photo you’d like to share? Send it in.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

One of the winners at the Emmy Awards thanked her “fellow comrades.” And she’s a writer!

General Errata

A reader points out that “withdrawal” often becomes “withdrawl” in the hands of many in the news media. As in so many of these instances, the simple solution would be to use spellcheck.
Another common error is the mangling of the age-old idiom “I got a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach.” It means the middle of one’s stomach; the location of a visceral response. Many writers seem to think it involves eating a peach. Take, for example, Tom Pelissero of USA Today: “It has to be a pit in your stomach that you haven’t been to the playoffs since 2009.”

Literally of the Month

ESPN’s Chris Fowler, reporting from Wimbledon: “Djokovic has picked himself up off the canvas, literally.” Yes, the world’s number one tennis player fell down and got up, but the courts in Wimbledon are covered with grass, not canvas.

Word of the Month

Impecunious. Pronounced im-pi-KYOO-nee-uhs, it’s an adjective meaning having little or no money.

Quote of the Month

“When established idiom clashes with grammar, correctness is on the side of the idiom. Put another way, if sticking grimly to rules of grammar makes you sound like a pompous pedant, you are a pompous pedant.”
—William Safire (1983), quoted in The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing.
(To which we respond, guilty!)

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The War on Words – Sept 2014

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

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Sharknado 2, that social phenomenon that befouled television sets one regrettable evening in late July, at least gave us a contribution to “War.” Weather guru Al Roker, camping it up as himself, called the tornado/shark shower “a rare anomaly.” Really, Al? As opposed to a common anomaly?

Our favorite editorial page columnist at the Wilmington News Journal recently wrote this, in the very first sentence: “Pore through the annals of history on sexual abuse…”

Media Watch

“It is never OK to put your hands on a women.” – Stephen A. Smith in his mea culpa tweet regarding the Ray Rice suspension by the NFL. And then there was this headline from Infinity by Comcast: “80-year-old women gets makeover.”
Why, oh why, do so many people—men and women—get this simple word wrong? Once again: woman is singular, women is plural.
Similarly, it’s womankind, not womenkind. The latter would be redundant, since “-kind” includes all members of the sex. It would be like using “menkind” in place of “mankind” – a mistake that never seems to be made.
Reader J. D. Metzger, of Wilmington, submits (by snail mail, of all things) this subhead from a recent issue of BetterInvesting: “No pier pressure.” That would be peer.
And then there was this headline on a letter to the NJ: “Iraq plan squashed by partisanship.” The letter did not contain that phrase or the correct “plan quashed by partisanship.”

We Recommend . . .

Several readers alerted me to a Weird Al Yankovic video titled “Word Crimes,” which you can find here: Please, set aside any negative thoughts you may have about Weird Al and check it out.

A note to all those who drop the “g” in recognize: don’t. It’s not pronounced reca-nize.
And the word is “moot” (and pronounced that way), not mute, in such phrases as “the question is moot.”

How Long, Oh, Lord, How Long?

A loyal reader submits this from a thank-you letter stating that she “. . . received neither good’s nor services for your gift.” The letter was half right, anyway.
And in a rare case of a missing apostrophe, we saw this sign in the window of a Market Street store: “Fine mens clothing since 1935.”

Readers’ Pet Peeves

Last month we asked for pet peeves from readers. Among those who responded:
Jason Scott, of Middletown: “Anxious used as a synonym for excited or eager. E. g., ‘The kids are anxious to leave for Disney World.’ Are they fearful of the giant mouse?”
Long-time reader Debbie Layton: “Aside from the misuse of apostrophes, one of my pet peeves is the use of ‘what’ in the middle of a sentence. A recent News-Journal article said, ‘Hayes sold the Radish Farm house in March 2008 for 14 percent less than what he paid for it.’
“And another from a different source: ‘Evergreen spends about a dollar less than what California spends.’”


Foodies sometimes call themselves gourmands, thinking it’s a special way to say “gourmet.” While both words mean someone who is fond of food, a gourmet is a connoisseur, a person with refined taste in food and drink. Gourmand refers to someone who is extremely (and often excessively) fond of eating and drinking.

Literally of the Month

“They had to pull some rabbits out of the hat—in some cases, quite literally”—MLB announcer, speaking of the Tampa Bay Rays’ win streak. Maybe they should be renamed the Tampa Bay Magicians.

Word (term?) of the Month

sine qua non
Pronounced si-ni-kwä-nän, it’s a noun meaning something indispensable or essential. E.g., “patience is a sine qua non for this job.”

Quote of the Month

“Prose is not necessarily good because it obeys the rules of syntax, but it is fairly certain to be bad if it ignores them.”
—Wilson Follett, Modern American Usage: A Guide (1966).

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