The War on Words – Dec. 2018


Bob Yearick

, War On Words

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

Media Watch

Our thanks to The Philadelphia Inquirer for our first four entries:

• “In 2005, Johnson had just graduated high school . . .” –  Sarah Todd. As we repeatedly point out, high schools and colleges graduate people, but people graduate from high schools and colleges.

  “[Markelle Fultz] was disinterested, disengaged and more than a little confused.” – Marcus Hayes.  The primary definition of disinterested is “unbiased; not influenced by considerations of personal advantage.”  Better to use “uninterested.”

• Sixer Dario Saric told the Inky he was “110 percent ready for the Boston games.” Even being 101 percent ready means making an effort that is beyond human capacity, so Dario was at least 10 percent wrong.

• Joe Juliano wrote that there would be a “dual between Michigan State’s best-in-the nation rush defense and Penn State QB Trace McSorley.” Dual is an adjective that refers to something composed of two like or complementary parts. A duel is a noun meaning a struggle between two individuals, groups, or ideas.

• “Beyoncé proved too successful of a star to be taken down for her opinions.” – Maeve McDermott, USA TODAY. The of is not only unnecessary in this phrase but also displays uncultivated speech. (Conversely, in the phrase “what kind of a car do you have,” the a is unnecessary.)

• “It was déjà vu all over again . . .” – John Black, in the Penn State Football Letter. The French phrase déjà vu describes the sensation that something you are experiencing has happened before, so “all over again” is redundant. This tired repetition of a supposed Yogi Berra joke needs to be retired, as Yogi did in 1965.

• On his show, Dan Patrick talked about Kansas City’s “porous” defense, then proceeded to spell it “p-o-U-r-o-u-s.” The word is not related to “pour,” as in pouring water, but to pore – possessing or full of pores, or capable of being penetrated.

• Even the sainted NPR commits gaffes. Reader Jane Buck reports that Domenico Montanaro, NPR’s lead political editor, wrote this: “At least two women candidates are taking different tacts as they head into the home stretch of the midterm campaign.” Tacts is not short for tactic and, indeed, is not a word. He meant tacks, or methods of dealing with a situation or problem; a course of action or policy. It’s derived from the nautical term for a change in course.

• Comcast Sports headline: “Furyk diffuses tiger rumors.” That should be defuses. Diffuses means to spread, disperse.

Then or Than?

Anyone paying attention to emails or Facebook posts have seen these two words constantly mixed up. Here’s a quick tutorial:

Than: used in comparative statements: He is taller than I am.

• Then: used either as a time marker or with a sequence of events: I took the exam, then I took a nap.

It seems that then is most often misused in place of than, as in this email I recently received: “We have more who can’t make it tomorrow then those who can.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Reader Janet Strobert tells us that a UD student was quoted thusly in The News Journal. “It’s a big inconvenience for the whole entire community.” They’re synonymous. Choose one.

Columnist Ted Kaufman, in TNJ, referred to “our president’s descriptive adjectives.”   

O&A Contributing Writer Larry Nagengast submits this from Republican state legislative candidate Bryan Shupe, in a TNJ op-ed: “. . . we must remember that the solutions to our large challenges in Delaware will be solved with innovative solutions that come from partnerships between government, business and our local communities.” Adds Larry: “This is an example of the skillful use of repetition to distract the reader from the improper use of between instead of among.”

And then there was this headline in USA TODAY: “Chaotic Afghan elections draw to a close after violence, chaos.”

Follow me on Twitter: @thewaronwords

Need a speaker for your organization? Contact me for a fun presentation on grammar:

Word of the Month


Pronounced ab-ni-GAY-shuhn, it’s a noun meaning self-denial.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.