The War on Words – Sept 2014

Bob Yearick

, War On Words

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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