A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse
Notes from all over as we clean out some of our media files:
• Rob Ellis on 97.5 The Fanatic: “You wonder what’s going on with he and the Phillies.” Like many broadcasters, Rob just can’t bring himself to use the oh-so-inelegant objective case, him.
• Carron Phillips, in the News Journal: “After being followed and monitored, police arrested them.” It was the people the police arrested who were being followed and monitored, not the police.
• Call this “Away All Boats”: Katty Kay of the BBC: “The boat sunk.” CBS radio correspondent: “The boat has sank.” The past tense of sink is sank; the past participle is sunk.
• Jon Offredo in the News Journal: “. . . the judge which . . .” That would be “the judge who.”
• WDEL commercial for a financial adviser: “That being said, there’s some great vehicles out there . . .” The contraction “there’s” trips up many in the media, who pair a singular verb (is) with a plural noun—in this case, vehicles. Make it “there are some great vehicles.”
• Nancy Armour in USA Today, noting that Tiger Woods’ kids tagged along with him on the course: “Charlie, 6, followed a few steps behind, proudly toting three of his dad’s irons that were almost as big as him.” Yo, Nance, just complete the sentence; make it “as big as he is.”
• And finally, two examples of the possessive pronoun failing to agree with its antecedent (corrections in parentheses):
1. Peter McArthur on WDEL: “A very familiar name threw their (his or her) name into the ring.”
2. CNN announcer: “Four died and one is fighting for their (his/her) life.”
Department of Redundancies Dept.
We loved this headline on a delawareonline video: “Florida officials captured, euthanized and killed an alligator that bit off a woman’s arm.” Euthanize, of course, means to kill humanely. We’re thinking the headline writer may have thought euthanize means anesthetize. The head was changed a while later.
As noted previously, we’re convinced that the word “an” is unknown to many people. Two examples:
• The woman who shot a giraffe in Africa posted on YouTube: “What a amazing animal.”
• A reader reports that the Zaikka Indian Grill at 9th and King in Wilmington has good food, but a banner ad there starts out, “Plan a event.”
To review: An is used before singular nouns that begin with a vowel sound. A comes before singular nouns beginning with a consonant sound.
Now that the presidential race has begun, we’re sure the candidates will provide War with plenty of fodder. Here’s one from Jeb Bush: “At this time in the polls, my father was just an asterick.” Yo, Jeb, that’s asterisk.
Missing on Misnomer
Many people misuse misnomer, which means “a wrong or inaccurate name or designation.” It does not mean “a popular misconception or misunderstanding.” E.g., “The common misnomer [misunderstanding] is that all Division 1 football programs operate in the black.” On the other hand, to call this year’s edition of the Philadelphia Phillies “the Fightin’ Phils” is a true misnomer.
Our Readers Write (or email)
Reader Larry Kerchner reports that “awesomesauce” (a word War has never heard) has been added to the Oxford Dictionary. Larry’s comment: “I think there should be a hold on any new words until people learn the old ones. Or half of the old ones. Or, for the love of God, some of the old ones!”
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Word of the Month: tenebrous
Pronounced TEN-uh-bruhs, it’s an adjective meaning dark, gloomy or obscure.
Quotation of the Month: “If something expands our power of expression it is good, but if it limits it, it is bad. It is very bad indeed when words with clearly different meanings are used interchangeably. Distinction expands our scope for expression. Its removal constrains it.”
—John Humphrys, Lost for Words: The Mangling and
Manipulating of the English Language (2004).