A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse
• Jarrett Bell, sports columnist, USA Today: “[Herm] Edwards strikes me as imminently equipped to relate to the minds of 20-year-old millennials.” The word he wanted is eminently. Imminently means “very soon.”
• Also in the USA Today sports section, there was a reference to the “tongue and cheek” proposal that LeBron James should be named Secretary of Education. The expression is “tongue in cheek,” and it describes the physical act that originally signified contempt but evolved into an indication that the speaker is not being literal but is trying to be humorous.
• According to a reader, Phillies play-by-play man Tom McCarthy was at it again during a late August game with this comment on new Phillie Wilson Ramos’ run-scoring hit: “What a way to embrace yourself to the Phillies fans.” He was groping (we think) for “endear yourself.” Another reader notes that Tommy Mac calls runs-batted-in “RBIs,” when the term is properly RBI. We may soon introduce a “Tommy Mac” feature.
• Jason Myrtetus, on 97.5 FM The Fan, decided to go multi-syllabic and use disingenuous, but alas, it was a bridge too far. Introducing audio from a pre-season NFL game, Jason said: “Listen to how disingenuous these announcers were after a bogus illegal use of the helmet call.” The recording clearly demonstrated that the announcers were dismayed, disbelieving, not disingenuous—“insincere, dishonest.”
Department of Redundancies Dept.
• A reader reports that he recently received two invitations, both of which ended with “Please RSVP.” As we’ve pointed out in a previous column, RSVP is an acronym for the French phrase that means “Please reply.” The reader says it took all his willpower not to send a correction, making him a better man than I am.
• Reader Luann Haney spotted this phrase in the Williamsport (Pa.) Sun-Gazette: “median strip in the middle.”
• We happened upon the grammarian’s holy grail—a redundancy in The New Yorker: “. . . can be traced back to . . .”
Some media types pronounce it “asterik,” while others sometimes say “asterix.” But the word asterisk is pronounced just as it’s spelled—AS-ter-ISK.
The Dreaded Double-Superlative
From a caller on 97.5 FM: “The Phillies are the most losingest franchise in all of sports.”
John Boruk, Comcast Sports, also used the clunker, crediting Eagles Coach Doug Pederson with making “one of the most gutsiest calls in Super Bowl history.”
Here’s a simple rule for avoiding this mistake: Any time you use “most,” make sure the next word doesn’t end in -est.
And a Double-Comparative
Caption in USA Today: “Rashan Gary is already displaying skills of a player far more older and experienced.”
Your Honor, We Object . . .
Came across this somewhat famous quote from Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, during his 1991 confirmation hearings: “This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.”
We humbly submit that the Justice misspoke. Deign means to condescend, stoop, consent, agree. The word he should have used, it seems to us, was dare.
• “Fall through the cracks” is a perfectly good phrase that refers to the cracks between slats, as on a boardwalk. But the idiom is often distorted into the illogical “fall between the cracks.” Things (and people) can fall between the slats, but not between the cracks.
• And when did “based on” become the wordy and weird “based off of”?
And finally . . .
Everyday is often used where every day is needed (it’s rampant on Facebook). Everyday is an adjective meaning “happening or used every day” or “commonplace.” It is not a substitute for the two-word phrase every day, in which the adjective every modifies the noun day. The phrase functions as an adverb. E.g., “I eat lunch every day,” “I brush my teeth every day.”
Need a speaker for your organization? Contact me for a fun presentation on grammar: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Word of the Month
Pronounced dem? mänd, it’s a noun meaning a group of people considered to be on the fringes of respectable society.