The War on Words – Sept. 2016

Bob Yearick

, War On Words

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

Close, But No Cigar

I heard a man at the Democratic Convention say, “We are all in agreeance with Joe Biden.” This word got a lot of press more than a decade ago when rocker Fred Durst, lead singer of Limp Bizkit, uttered this at the Grammy Awards: “I just really hope we’re all in agreeance that this war should go away as soon as possible.” Wordsmiths responded with derision, saying it should be agreement. Then some Oxford English Dictionary expert contended that it was a word, but he admitted it had gone out of use in the early 1700s, then made a comeback in the 18th and early 19th centuries. But since then it has again fallen into disuse. Bottom line: it’s wrong. Go with agreement.

Media Watch

• Matt Breen, in The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Pete Mackanin said he is not sure how long Bianco will be out for.” The non-rule about not ending a sentence in a preposition is silly (As Winston Churchill allegedly said, “That is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put.”), but in this case the “for” is totally useless and amateurish.
• USA Today: “What do you get when you cross a international pop star with . . .” Proof once again that “an” is disappearing from the language. Remember, the rule is to use an before a word starting with a vowel sound. Otherwise, use a.
• Phillies radio broadcaster Scott Franzke: “He is leaving a lot of space between he and the shortstop.” Franzke thus joins his TV counterpart, Tom McCarthy, in not recognizing that prepositions such as between require the objective pronoun him.
• Wall Street Journal: “The most basic tenant of the decision is that . . . the death penalty must be decided by the jury.” The correct word is tenet, meaning principle, rule, not tenant, meaning a renter of land or property.
• Keith Pompey, in the Inquirer, scored a double: “In addition to being solid from the three-point line, the Sixers are getting a good locker room guy.” This is a dangling modifier; it’s the guy who’s good from the three-point line, not the Sixers. Same story: “They want to have a face-to-face meeting with Waiters to squash the concerns about the South Philly native.” The word is quash. Common mistake.
• The University of Pennsylvania Gazette: “The Pentagon people came to us instead of we going over there.” Should be “us,” of course—again, object of the preposition. And from an Ivy League publication yet.
• The News Journal: “Wendell Smallwood didn’t have a big viewing party, just him and his immediate family at their home in Smyrna.” Here, the subjective case is needed—he.
• And finally, we have this from Donald Trump, who spoke of “picking up” on the emails of Hillary Clinton: “Believe me, I’m going to pick up bigly.” As usual with Trump’s comments, I have no rational reaction.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

(Note that the word of the month, tautology, describes this department.)
There are phrases that have been accepted for years that simply don’t pass muster here. Two examples:
• Compare and contrast. This is a classic tautology popular with high school teachers everywhere. Note to them: just make it compare. If one is comparing two things, there will naturally be contrasts.
• Sooner rather than later. This is a favorite of loquacious people, especially those in TV and radio. Just make it “soon.”

Movie Gaffes

Herewith a new category, in which we point out misuses, misspellings, and general semi-literacy in random movies.
In 2012’s Parental Guidance, Bill Crystal says to Bette Midler: “You must’ve sang that to the kids a hundred times.” Sung is the past participle of sing.
From Manhunter (1986): A headline in a newspaper reads “FBI Persues Pervert.” That’s pursues.

Noticed any movie gaffes? Send ‘em in.

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Seen a good (bad) one lately?

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Word of the Month

tautology
Pronounced taw-tol-uh-jee, it’s a noun meaning the saying of the same thing twice in different words; a redundancy.

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