A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse
This is the worst!
CBS NFL color analyst Dan Fouts recently called a penalty “the worse I’ve ever seen.” Meanwhile, Mike Missanelli, sports talker on 97.5 The Fanatic, tweeted about turnovers during a Philadelphia 76ers game: “2 TOs at the worse time!”
They’re not alone; many people mistake worse, the comparative adjective, for worst, the superlative. If something is as bad as it can be, use worst.
Department of Redundancies Dept.
Susan Monday, on her WDEL talk show: “It was a repeat performance from before.”
And reader Dan Hamilton says a New York Times editorial used the term “partisan gerrymander” four times. Gerrymander means “to manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) to favor one party or class”—thus eliminating, as Dan points out, the need to call it partisan.
• Headline from the Wilmington News Journal, courtesy of reader Joan Burke: “Man critically wounded after being found stabbed.” Which prompts this from Joan: “So how does that work? Did they wound him after they found him?”
• Similarly, a reader submits this from a USA TODAY story: “Five suspected terrorists were fatally killed by the police.” Thus killing them twice?
• A WNJ story described UD’s football victory over Richmond as a “penultimate win.” Like many people, the writer thinks that penultimate means the absolute best, when it actually means, simply, next to last. Reader Julian Baumann, Jr., who also spotted the gaffe, comments: “UD fans surely hope not.”
• And reader Luann Haney came across this in a WNJ story about the shooter who killed three people in Maryland before being apprehended in Delaware: “He also had multiple traffic offenses from attempting to allude Maryland State Police.” Allude means to suggest or call attention to indirectly. What was meant here was elude.
• We end with a minor transgression by Christine Brennan, USA TODAY sports columnist: “But more than half our nation’s population has no idea how big of a deal this was.” Of is totally unnecessary in that phrase, and is avoided by the best writers and speakers.
Most Common Mistake
Let us now address the most common punctuation gaffe committed by Americans: placing periods and commas outside quotation marks. Such placement is correct in Britain and virtually everywhere else in the world, but here in the good ol’ US of A, periods and commas go inside quotation marks. It seems counter-intuitive, we know, and that’s why so many people do it. Here are examples:
Wrong: She said, “I’m going to the store”. Calling his action “a mistake”, the politician apologized.
Right: She said, “I’m going to the store.” Calling his action “a mistake,” the politician apologized.
. . . not just the name of a popular Netflix series, but also a descriptor for the way we sometimes treat words. Examples:
• Overheard in the Brandywine YMCA sauna (usually a veritable bastion of eloquence and wisdom): “I may be touting my own horn here, but . . .” The man meant “tooting.” He was touting his expertise.
• Overheard on the street: “I’m going to videotape that with my cell phone.” Smartphones have a video recording function, but there is no tape involved.
• A friend reports that “action” is frequently used as a verb in his workplace: “You need to action this.” “This is for him to action.” Please, stop with the corporate corruption of language!
Ah, Those Advertisers
Advertising and advertisers have never been great respecters of correct usage (“light beer has less calories”), and two current commercials reinforce that observation:
• Home Mattress Center urges consumers: “Lay down on our mattresses.” Our question: lay what down? To lay is to put or set something down. To lie (the verb needed here) is to recline.
• And Corropolese Bakery & Deli in Norristown is back with its commercial on Philly radio about “a kindler, gentler time.” Kindler: not a word, at least not in this sense. It’s the rarely used noun form of kindle. Kinder is meant here.
Word of the Month
Pronounced MAM-uh-thrept, it’s a noun meaning a spoiled child or a person of immature judgment.
The holidays are here, and The War on Words book makes a great stocking stuffer. Buy it at Ninth Street Books in Wilmington, the Hockessin Book Shelf, on Amazon, or by calling O&A at 655-6483.
Seen a good (bad) one lately?
Send your candidates to firstname.lastname@example.org