A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse
• Michael Barkann, host on NBC Sports Philadelphia, on Twitter: “You know you’re in the fold when @MarcFarzetta brews you an expresso from his personal expresso maker. Grazie mille!” We thought Barkann was too sophisticated to write expresso (twice!) instead of the correct espresso.
• From a review of Nora Jones’ Begin Again by Ragan Clark of AP: “Jones began to wander toward folk influences before dappling in electronica . . .” Hard to believe a professional journalist would mistake dappling for dabbling.
• Donald Trump recently commented on windmills, of all things: “Scotland has a group of leaders, one in particular, who just is foistering them on the people, and it’s really, really sad.” The Donald meant to say foisting.
• Frequent contributor Debbie Layton sends this from a recent issue of Delaware Today: “He and his wife, Laura, considered starting their own business before it sunk in….” The past tense of sink is “sank,” not “sunk.”
• Reader Susan Kaye sends an example of another verb gone wrong in a delawareonline headline: “Divers in Hawaii may have swam with the biggest great white shark on record.” It should be swum, notes Susan.
• Luann Haney sends us a story from her hometown newspaper, the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, that is rife with errors, among which is this egregious one: “Despite efforts to make the platform as safe as possible, much of the onerous falls on the driver and rider to ensure safe passage.” Using the adjective onerous as a noun is creative, but wrong. Onus was the word the writer was groping for.
Department of Redundancies Dept.
• From a News Journal story on the Gentleman Bandit: “‘Give me the money,’ he said, trying to clutch onto the $10 bill.” Clutch: “Grasp or seize (something) tightly or eagerly.” Onto is superfluous.
Please tell me when the phrase “arrived to” instead of “arrived at” became acceptable. All of a sudden it’s everywhere. You may go to a place, but you arrive at it.
Some writers and editors are persnickety about splitting an infinitive. I’m inclined to overlook them sometimes, and it often makes sense to split an infinitive. For instance, writing “Acme plans to more than double employment at its stores” is preferable to not splitting the infinitive. You wouldn’t write “Acme plans more than to double employment . . .”
The Vagaries of the Language
• Not synonyms: Flaunt and flout are sometimes mistaken for each other. Flaunt means to display ostentatiously, in the way a wealthy woman might show off diamonds, while flout is to scorn or hold in contempt, as in the way criminals flout the law.
• The expression “I feel badly about that” is common—and wrong. To feel badly is to have a tactile problem; you are incompetent at touching and sensing. You feel bad.
• Also common: “They will return momentarily,” meaning in a moment or two. Actually, momentarily really means existing for only a moment, as in “the flame burned momentarily, then died out.”
• Jane Buck submits this from The Washington Post: “The White House’s relent on the matter came after Jordan on Friday made a personal plea for Kline’s appearance . . .” Jane asks: When did relent become a noun?
Word of the Month
Pronounced bib-lee-OL-ater, it’s a noun meaning one with extreme devotion to books, or one having excessive devotion to the Bible, especially to its literal interpretation.
Quotation of the Month
“It’s hard to explain to people that if you get the punctuation wrong in a tweet, your world becomes a purposeless void. Not everyone gets it.”
– Mary Laura Philpott, author of I Miss You When I Blink. (I get it, Mary.)
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