A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse
Department of Redundancies Dept.
Alexandra Coppadge, spokesperson for Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams, quoted in the Wilmington News Journal: “This alternative use for the funding could represent an effective way to improve the effectiveness of a police department without threatening a takeover.”
Word Warrior Walt DelGiorno received an invitation containing that age-old gaffe, “Please RSVP.” RSVP is an abbreviation of the French phrase répondez, s’il vous plaît, which means “please reply.”
Local fuel supplier Shellhorn & Hill’s commercial advises us to “prepare for future winters to come.”
And Janssen’s Market advertises that it is “truly unique.” As we know, unique means “one of a kind,” so it needs no modifiers.
And sportscasters no longer find simply a key to the game; now it’s “a big key.”
Could Care Less of the Month
(A new category, in which we attempt to stop the pervasive mangling of the phrase “couldn’t care less.”)
From a letter to the editor in Sports Illustrated: “I now believe most pitchers could care less if they had to hit in a game or not.”
Many words fall under the “close, but no cigar” category because people think they know what the words mean, but they’re slightly off the mark. With writers, it’s sometimes a case of wanting to use a new or different word. One example, covered in a recent column, is don, which means to put on an article of clothing. Some writers have used it to mean “wear,” as in “Mike Schmidt took the field donning a long wig.” There is a difference between putting on a wig and wearing it.
Similarly, we recently came across a misguided use of the word tout, which means to advertise or attempt to sell (something), typically by pestering people in an aggressive manner. In a story on the Penn State football team, the reporter wrote that “Penn State touts a full allotment of 85 scholarship players.” We’re guessing he simply meant “has,” since there was no implication of advertising or selling.
Sew and sow also are sometimes confused—even, according to reader Karen Foster, by such a renowned writer as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. According to Karen, Dowd recently wrote that Hilary Clinton “sewed suspicion.” What she meant was “sowed,” meaning planted or scattered.
Hanged and hung can cause much confusion. Clothing is hung in closets, and pictures are hung on the wall. In some jurisdictions, murderers are hanged. But note: this word applies only in cases of execution or suicide. If a person is otherwise suspended, and death isn’t the intended result, use hung. For instance, Benito Mussolini and his mistress were executed in 1944. Afterward, their bodies were hung upside down.
And, to end today’s lesson, it’s derring-do (showing manhood or chivalry), not “daring-do.” Space does not allow for the lengthy explanation.
Like me, reader Jane Buck has noticed the proliferation of prepositions in our language. She calls out The Chronicle of Higher Education for this abomination: “Jim Cracraft describes how he changed up the way he handled students’ portfolios.” Jane asks: “What’s wrong with simply saying ‘changed,’” adding that she’s noticed similar phrases, including “swap out.”
And one of my spinning instructors tells us to “add in” resistance, while another says “add on,” when a simple “add” would do.
Meanwhile, ESPN hosts no longer just welcome guests to their shows; they welcome them “in.”
Also . . .
These phrases are incorrect because of extra (italicized) words: “not that difficult of a game” and “he performs as best as he can.”
Last month, “War” made the mistake of venturing into foreign territory when we incorrectly stated that Word Warrior Walt DelGiorno was “ever alert to Golf Channel faux pax.” A bilingual reader quickly pointed out that it is faux pas (French for “step”), adding that “pax” is Latin for “peace.” We should know better than to stray from good ol’ American.
Follow me on Twitter: @thewaronwords
Word of the Month:
Pronounced PET-ri-kuhr, it’s a noun meaning the pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell.
Need a speaker for your organization?
Contact me for a fun power point presentation on grammar: firstname.lastname@example.org.