The War On Words June 2017

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

Media Watch

• Harry Smith, on Sunday Today with Willie Geist, interviewing an old woman: “Born about the time women got the right to vote, I was curious, so I asked her . . .” He was clearly speaking of her, but the dangler made it sound as if he was referring to himself.
• From the Wilmington News Journal sports pages: “There are a litany of teams that have tried to address the quarterback position.” Litany is one of those words that sportswriters in particular seem to think will make their copy more sophisticated. But using it to simply mean a list is wrong. A litany is “a tedious recital or repetitive series,” as in “a litany of complaints.”
• Two more from TNJ, with corrections in parentheses: 1. “Video footage from a DART bus at the scene showed Cottingham step in to try to diffuse (defuse) the situation . . .” 2. “Neither were (was) seriously hurt” (in a story on a tree totaling Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn’s car, in which he was riding with his son).
• Robert Bianco, TV reviewer in USA Today, who is usually immune to the semi-literacy plaguing that newspaper, in a review of Imaginary Mary: “Jenna Elfman . . . is cast as a tightly-wound, kid-adverse executive.” He meant averse (opposed, antagonistic). Adverse means contrary, hostile, bad; as in adverse weather.
• Commentator Geoff Mosher on 97.5 The Fan: “Getting to the Super Bowl is a long road to hoe.” You hoe a row, as in a crop like corn or tobacco. A road can’t be hoed. Common mistake.
• Host Mike Missanelli on 97.5: “Where are you getting your information from?” As I’ve said many times, there’s no rule against ending a sentence in a preposition, but this sentence should have ended with information.
• A WDEL reporter used the term “wrecking havoc.” It’s wreaking havoc.
• Most news outlets got it right in referring to Aaron Hernandez, the former NFL player who hanged himself in jail. But a few said he hung himself. Hung is the correct past tense in most senses: “I hung a picture; I hung a left turn.” The exception comes where hang means to put to death by hanging.

Literally of the Month:

ESPN’s Matt Hasselbeck, assessing Kansas City’s pick of quarterback Patrick Mahomes: “He is literally everything that Alex Smith (the current Chiefs qb) is not.” Wrong—on so many levels. For starters, they’re both quarterbacks. And right-handed. And human beings.

The DP Dept.

It’s getting so we need a separate department for The Dan Patrick Show. Some gaffes from the sports talk host and his minions:
• Dan: “My wife is encouraging me to cook more meals while she cooks less meals.” It’s fewer, since meals is plural.
• Dan: “Not that big of a deal.” Patrick is one of the countless commentators who add this uncecessary word. And while I’m at it, can we eliminate the wordy “based off of” and revert to the more traditional and succinct “based on”?
• One of the “Dannettes,” commenting on Sergio Garcia celebrating his victory in The Masters: “I can only imagine how much wine was drank.” That would be drunk, a word many people view as only an adjective or a noun.

A Hollywood Moment

Like most people, actor Richard Gere can’t bring himself to use objective pronouns. Joking about his relationship with co-star Rebecca Hall in The Dinner, the graying Gere referred to “. . . the sexual tension between she and I.” Admittedly, her and me sounds much less elegant, but the preposition between demands it.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

“The bridge spans over the creek”—a sentence that popped up in a piece of copy I edited. Spans, in this sense, means to extend across.