A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse
• Willie Geist and Dylan Dreyer, in a segment on NBC’s Sunday Today, talked about a little girl refusing to go in her house by “laying down on the driveway.” Yo, Willie and Dylan, that’s lying down.
• Reader Jane Buck found this in a story in The News Journal about a police standoff: “A robot diffused the situation.” It’s defused, as in removing the fuse from a bomb.
• On the TNJ sports pages, a story on the Delaware-James Madison playoff game praised UD’s defensive effort, then added this: “But Delaware could mount little complimentary offense, . . .” The word needed here is complementary, meaning matching, corresponding.
• Apparently the UC Berkeley School of Public Health believes in that misguided rule about not ending a sentence in a preposition. Reader Janet Strobert received an email from the school that included this: “In general, the benefits of statins outweigh the risks, so work with your doctor to find a treatment plan with which you can stick.” Says Janet: “It reminds me of Churchill’s famous line: ‘This is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put.’”
• Joe Juliano, Philadelphia Inquirer sports writer, apparently missed “object of the preposition” day in English class. He set my teeth on edge when he recently wrote this: “ . . . and a failed handoff between he and Trace McSorley resulted in a lost fumble. . . ” The preposition between requires the objective pronoun him.
• Mike Castle, on WDEL election night, called one candidate a “good, erstwhile young man.” Like many people, the erstwhile governor and Congressman seems to think that the word means earnest or upstanding. It doesn’t. It simply means former.
• On his nationally syndicated sports talk show, Rich Eisen started a question with this: “Do you prescribe to the theory that . . . ” One subscribes to a theory.
• Alex Byington, in a USA TODAY story about Alabama quarterback and Heisman Trophy favorite Tua Tagolvailoa, wrote this dangling modifier: “While admittedly daunting at times, the unassuming Tagolvailoa hasn’t let the attention alter his approach . . .” It’s the attention that’s daunting, not Tagovailoa —at least not in this context.
• John Clark, on Comcast Sports, talked about “the amount of bird fans who will be at the [Cowboys] game.” John and others in the media need to be reminded that when speaking of plurals, you must use the word number.
• Reader Maria Hess caught this on Philadelphia’s Action News (Channel 6): “If you suffered a stroke, surviving could be the difference between life and death.” While there is no grammar problem here, there does seem to be a problem with the logic.
Department of Redundancies Dept.
• On the McDaniel Crest website, a member mentioned “paeans of praise.” Paean: a song or lyric poem expressing triumph or praise. Reminds us of the time, years ago, when baseball broadcaster Tim McCarver referred to “a respite of rest.” Respite: a short period of rest.
• In TNJ, a caption on a picture showing a politician preparing to throw an ax claimed that he was “competing in a competition.”
• The TV play-by-play announcer for the Penn State-Iowa game said a kicker was “going to try and attempt a field goal.”
• Contributing writer Larry Nagengast reports that in Game 5 of the World Series, Joe Buck said, “I mentioned this verbally…” Observes Larry: “How else would you mention it”?
Latest Pet Peeves
invite (pronounced IN-vite) as a noun, as in, “We got the invite to the party.” Must we abbreviate invitation in this way? It’s ugly. We invite people via an invitation.
meteoric rise: Why has this become an acceptable phrase? Ever notice? Meteors fall.
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Need a speaker for your organization? Contact me for a fun presentation on grammar: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Word of the Month
Pronounced sola-sizem, it’s a noun meaning an ungrammatical combination of words in a sentence.