A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse
• Misusing amount where number is the right choice is a common problem, but it shouldn’t be for those in the media. Sadly, it is. Take John Clark, NBC 10 sportscaster, talking about “the amount of Bird fans who will be at the game.” Clark—and everyone in the news media—should know that plural nouns require number, while singular nouns take amount. Similarly, if you can count it, use fewer; if it’s a quantity, use less.
• “Have ran” and “had ran” continue to be uttered incorrectly by sports commentators—e.g., Danny Pommells on Comcast Sports, who recently said of the Eagles’ trick Super Bowl play, The Philly Special, “It’s amazing how many teams have ran it.”
• But now this miscue has crossed over to the news side, at least on Morning Joe, where Joe Scarborough uttered this: “Should you have ran that story without checking a few more facts?” To review: the past participle of ran is run. The past tense is ran.
• Reader Joan Burke reports that the Weather Channel app posted this during a September storm: “This is the second time Florence has underwent rapid intensification, doing so also last Tuesday and Wednesday, before wind shear weakened it, temporarily.” Says Joan: “There is lots wrong with this sentence, including underwent instead of undergone and the comma before the word ‘temporarily.’”
• A Susan Page book review in USA TODAY contained this: “The adjective most often associated with Betty Ford was candor.” Uh, Susan, that’s a noun. Betty Ford was candid (an adjective) in expressing her thoughts.
• A September issue of Blue White Illustrated contained this sentence: “Penn State comes into Saturday’s game off a uplifting domination of the Panthers last week.” Like many in the media, BWI seems to ignore the rule about when to use a or an, which is: Use an before a word that starts with a vowel sound. No vowel sound? Use a. E.g., a man, an elephant; and a house, an hour (remember, the vowel sound determines usage).
• A reader submits this from Delaware Lawyer: “She spent countless hours pining over answers to the difficult questions, . . .” The writer meant “poring over.” The usual mistake in this context is to use “pouring,” not pining, which means to miss and long for the return of.
• Another reader spotted this in The News Journal: “. . . by far the most divisive race for either party, with top fundraiser Kathy McGuiness hoping to eek out a win over Kathleen Davies and Dennis E. Williams.” We let out an “eek!” of our own when we saw that the usually literate Scott Goss apparently transposed a couple of letters in the word eke.
• Christopher Buskirk committed this gaffe in the venerable NY Times: “Or was he just another senator with presidential aspirations and a flare for fraternal invective?” Flare is a sudden, brief burst of bright flame or light. Flair, the word needed here, means an aptitude or eagerness for something or a distinctive style.
A Recurring Mistake
Reoccur and recur are verbs that are very close in meaning, so reoccur is often used where recur should be the choice. Something that is recurring happens over and over again, possibly at regular intervals. In contrast, something that is reoccurring is simply happening again but not always repeatedly.
Signs of the Apocalypse
A friend in the banking business says he recently was asked to “diarize some time” on his calendar for a meeting.
Department of Redundancies Dept.
A reader notes that a TV weatherperson in North Carolina referred to “incessant winds which never stop.” Incessant: nonstop, continuous.
Literally of the Month
Martin Rogers, on the sports pages of USA TODAY: “Boxing doesn’t just thrive on controversy, it literally breathes through it.” That’s a convoluted metaphor that is made even worse by the misuse of literally.
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Word of the Month
Pronounced AL-uh-zon, it’s a noun meaning a person characterized by arrogance, braggadocio, lack of self -awareness, etc.