The War On Words – March 2019


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
• A reader submits a paragraph from Public Domain Review that reads, in part, “. . . which would become important after the passage of the Embargo Act that lead to the War of 1812.” Led, the past tense of to lead, is often misspelled this way.

• Brian Truitt, USA TODAY columnist, committed this sentence in a review of Golden State by Ben H. Winters:  “Winters uses a lot of familiar tropes and turns, from the well-tread pairing of the grumpy law-enforcement veteran and an ambitious newbie to an ultimate dénouement . . . but the real nuance in Golden State lie in the author’s imaginative details.”

Where to begin? Let’s start with the redundancies: familiar tropes and ultimate dénouement. “Trope” describes commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés; so it is, by definition, familiar. A dénouement is the final (ultimate)part of a play, movie, or narrative. Then there is the verb lie. This should be lies, since it is linked to the singular noun nuance, not, as the author apparently thinks, to details. Oh, and well-tread, while not strictly wrong, is not as common among strong writers as well-trod.

• Reader Meg Morgan, of Hockessin, spotted this in a story by the Wilmington News Journal’s Karl Baker: “Schnatter’s comment drove a wedge between he and other board members at the pizza company.” Prepositions (e.g., between) require the objective pronoun; in this case, him.

• Jimmy Butler of the 76ers, as quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “If it would have went in, we would have won.” The fiery Sixer thus joins the countless sports figures—both players and TV and radio personalities—who confuse the past tense of go (went) with the past participle (gone).

• David Murphy, in the Inquirer, writing about Alshon Jeffery: “His Eagles teammates saw the wide receiver laying face down on the field . . .” That would be lying, meaning prone. Laying means putting down or setting in position. A common, and regrettable, mistake.

• Terry Plowman, founder and editor of Delaware Beach Life, submits this from Delawareonline: “As the first snow storm of 2019 approaches, weather forecasts are honing in on how much snow Delaware could see.” Pointing out that “homing in” is correct, Terry writes: “Sadly, this is one of those terms that descriptivists are coming to accept. Apparently the ‘homing pigeon’ concept escapes most people.”

• Reader Larry Kerchner reports that Republican strategist Shermichael Singleton, in an MSNBC interview, said that “Trump is on to more bigger things.” Ah, the dreaded double comparative.

• Finally, a reader saw this in a Fox News online report: “Two Target employees eventually came to help diffuse the situation.” As noted previously in this column, the word is defuse, meaning literally to “remove the fuse from (an explosive device) in order to prevent it from exploding,” while the non-literal meaning is to “reduce the danger or tension in.” Diffuse means to “spread or cause to spread over a wide area or among a large number of people.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.
I called Kohl’s the other day and got this recording: “Please enter in the last four digits of your Social Security number.” This is similar to the tendency of radio and TV talk show hosts to “welcome in” guests. In is unnecessary in both cases.

Just as February inevitably brings snow and cold, so too does it give us TV weather forecasters who call for artic conditions. The word is spelled a-r-c-t-i-c, and it’s pronounced ark-tic. Artic is not a word.

Similarly, sportscasters have taken to shortening “versus” to verse, as in “the Patriots verse the Rams.” Maybe they think that since it’s often abbreviated as vs., the pronunciation can be shortened. Note to them: it can’t.

Word of the Month

Pronounced uh-LISH-uhnt, it’s an adjective meaning having the power to attract; appealing.

Quotation of the Month

In the long run, the usage of those who do not think about the language will prevail. Usages I resist will become acceptable . . . . Yet those who care have a duty to resist.

—John Ciardi, columnist, poet and translator (d. 1986)

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