The War on Words


Media Watch

• Kudos to the Wilmington News Journal’s Matthew Albright for correctly using “quash” in a June 24 column: “. . . a political machine that uses its cash and clout to quash innovation.” Sadly, most writers opt for “squash” in such situations.

• Take, for example, Mike Jones in USA TODAY: “The Patriots’ awkward offseason continued this week when Tom Brady passed on the chance to squash concerns over the state of the franchise . . .”

• While Albright was demonstrating his literacy on the editorial pages, TNJ’s news stories were besmirched by the usual glitches. Also in the June 24 edition, a story on street biking featured this redundancy:  “Police cited dangerous examples of the dangers of street dirt biking . . .”  A few paragraphs later, there was this: “. . . their sport gets a bad wrap.” That would be rap.

• Phillies’ Manager Gabe Kapler, as reported in TNJ, spoke about pitcher Zach Eflin thusly: “I think he contributes a lot of his success to a more aggressive demeanor on the mound.” Again, a common mistake, but the correct word is attributes.

• Reader Larry Kerchner sends us these two: 1) CBS Philly’s Lauren Casey claimed that  “flooding is eminent.”  Imminent – about to happen—was the word she should have used. Eminent means esteemed or renowned. 2) This tweet from the president qualifies for Department of Redundancies Dept.: “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself.”

Sports Illustrated’s esteemed NFL writer, Peter King, committed this redundancy, according to a reader: “Two former cheerleaders countered the Times report, saying they weren’t forced to do anything that was not voluntary.”

• Sadly, one of our favorite actors, Wendell Pierce (Det. Bump Moreland in The Wire), committed this common mistake in a tweet: “It is clear that @kanyewest is being sensational for the sake of publicity. I could care less about that.” Wendell, my brother, it’s couldn’t care less.

Nerve-wracking or Nerve-racking?

Rack is predominant in all senses but one: seaweed, kelp. So nerve-racking is the standard, preferred spelling of the adjective that means exceptionally stressful or anxiety inducing. However, Associated Press Style dictates that nerve-wracking should be used. So this is the spelling you will see in many publications (including this one, hopefully).

When or Whenever?

Reader Susan Chandler has several pet peeves, and this one ranks high on her list. As Susan points out, many people think these words are interchangeable. In fact, some seem to use “whenever” exclusively. Strictly speaking (which is the way we speak here), whenever is a conjunction meaning “at whatever time; on whatever occasion (emphasizing a lack of restriction).” It applies to repeated events or events whose date or time is uncertain. E.g., “You can ask for help whenever you need it.”

When should be used if an event is unique or if its date or time is known. E.g., “The game will begin when the clock strikes seven.” 

The or thee?

While there is no hard and fast rule regarding the pronunciation of the, people tend to say thee before a vowel sound (thee outdoors, thee invitation, thee undertaker) and thuh before a consonant sound (thuh horse, thuh jockey, thuh track). The pronunciation relates to the sound and flow of speech. But, bottom line, you can pronounce the however you like.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

A reader reports that a 6ABC anchor referred to a vehicle as “submerged under water.”


A reader spotted this online post: “I hate it when people don’t know the difference between your and you’re. There so stupid!”

Irony is hard to define, but I think this is an example of it.

Note to contributors: When submitting an item to War, please try to include the name of the newspaper, magazine, TV channel or network, or online source, along with the author, if possible

So, what do you think? Please comment below.