The War On Words – June 2015

Bob Yearick

, War On Words

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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