The War On Words

Media Watch

• Both Sen. Al Franken and the president seem to have tactile problems. Various media quoted Democrat Franken thusly: “I feel badly” about grabbing a woman’s butt at the Minnesota State Fair a few years ago. Likewise, the (nominal) Republican in the White House says he “feels badly” for his buddy, Gen. Mike Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Attention, politicians and everyone else: when feelings/emotions are involved, you feel bad . . . or good. To feel badly is to have problems with your sense of touch.

• From an email by the president of the National Federation of Press Women: “There’s only 41 days until we will celebrate the New Year.” Such a mistake—using there’s, the contraction for there is, where there are is required because of the plural noun —is rampant, but particularly egregious when committed by the leader of a national organization of communicators.

• Lindsay Schnell, in USA TODAY: “If you don’t think East Coast bias is real, come take up residence on the West Coast for awhile.” Should be a while, a noun phrase that means “a period of time.” Awhile has a similar meaning, but it’s an adverb and is used in such sentences as “she rested awhile.” This can be confusing, but in most cases a while will be your best choice, and always when preceded by “for.”

• Josephine Peterson, in the Wilmington News Journal: “But the same tenants of the constitution . . .” Tenants are occupants of houses or apartments. The word needed here is tenets, meaning principles or beliefs. And Constitution should be capitalized, since the reference was to the U.S. Constitution.

• Derrick Gunn, Comcast sports guy, called the Eagles-Cowboys game “a backyard brawl.” No, it’s not. Backyard denotes proximity, so a Pittsburgh Steelers-Cleveland Browns game qualifies, or University of Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia. But Philly and Dallas? A little too far apart.

• A radio report on the shortage of Christmas trees included this from a tree farmer: “There was a glutton of them a few years ago.” He meant glut. Glutton, of course, describes someone who overindulges in food.

• Finally, courtesy of a reader, another from a NJ story about a fire in Richardson Park: “Her, along with other neighbors, ran out to help.” Her ran out? Really? That should be she, of course.

From the Hard to Believe, Harry Dept.

Reader Walt DelGiorno reports that on a trip to Oregon he and his wife stopped at a restaurant with this sign on the door: “We know longer serve breakfast.” And the menu offered a “Ceaser” salad.


I recently came across two instances in which “dear” (a term of affection) was used where “deer” (the animal) was correct. One was on Facebook (not surprising at all), and one in USA TODAY (semi-surprising).  That got me thinking about words that sound alike, differ slightly in spelling, and have entirely different meanings. Here are a few:

alter: to change, amend.  altar: the structure in churches where offerings are made.

hanger: a device used to hang clothes.  hangar: where planes are kept.

stationary: unmoving. stationery: paper products.

ladder: a structure used for climbing. latter: situated or occurring nearer to the end of something than to the beginning.

complimentary: denoting a compliment, praise.

complementary: completing something else or improving it.

exercise: physical activity, or, as a verb, to use or apply.

exorcise: to drive out or attempt to drive out, especially an evil spirit.

baloney: nonsense. bologna: a large sausage; or, capped, a city in northern Italy.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

• Reader Janet Strober calls out this sentence in Foreign Body, by Robin Cook: “Neil got his key card, left his room, and descended down to the lobby level.”

• And two utterances I head on local radio: “adult woman,” and “15-year-old teenager.”

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Word of the Month:


Pronounced BA-fuhl-gab, it’s a noun meaning obscure, pompous, or incomprehensible language, such as bureaucratic jargon.

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