The War On Words – Sept. 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

Reviewers at USA TODAY found the English language to be a challenge in July.

• Kelly Lawler, in a review of Veronica Mars, wrote of one of the main characters: “Logan diffuses the tension by flipping on the TV.” Like many writers, she confuses diffuses (disperses) with defuses (resolves, calms). Think of defuse as meaning to literally “remove the fuse from” a situation.

• In a note on Pulp Fiction, Lawler wrote: “Its memorable lines became apart of the lexicon.” She meant a part. As one word, apart means “separated by a distance,” which is pretty much the opposite of what she intended.

• Larry Bleiberg created a dangling modifier in summarizing a section on Philly’s Reading Terminal Market from the book Movable Markets, by Helen Tangires: “Located in the heart of downtown, Tangires says no visitor should miss this city institution.” It’s Reading Market that’s downtown, not Helen Tangires.

• And finally, Andrea Mandell, in a review of What Men Want, wrote: “Nick, a New York advertising executive known for hocking babes in bikinis . . .” She meant hawking, which means to sell or peddle goods or services. Hocking mean pawning.

• Meanwhile, over at The Philadelphia Inquirer, reviewer Gary Thompson wrote that the movie Ma is “fun for awhile.” He meant a while, a noun phrase that means “a period of time.” Awhile is an adverb, meaning “for a time.”

General Confusion

The plural of attorney general is attorneys general, but it’s often abused, as in this sentence from a Wilmington News Journal story in July: “It was 2011, in the midst of the housing crisis, when all 50 state attorney generals agreed to conduct a multistate investigation into the banks and claims of foreclosure abuse.”

Worse, however, is when an actual attorney general gets it wrong. According to a reader, in a recent television interview, New York’s attorney general spoke of his professional peers as “attorney generals.” You would think that someone who holds the title would know the correct plural for it.

Literally of the Month

Serena Williams, speaking of her loss to Simona Halep in the Wimbledon singles finals: “She literally played out of her mind.”

Give It a Rest

The adjective curated and the verb curating seem to have become favorites of writers and speakers everywhere. As long ago as 2014, CNBC’s Brian Sullivan declared that curating was one of the year’s most over-used words. “Curating used to be a word we only used in museums,” Sullivan wrote. “Somewhere in the last year ‘curate’ has morphed into a word people are using anytime they pick something and want to sound like it’s more than just picking something, as in, ‘Our musicologist will now curate you a playlist.’”

Five years later, curated continues to be a vogue word. Examples:

Sports Illustrated recently wrote of “a collection of lies” that “is small and sharply curated.”

USA TODAY noted a celebrity’s “curated image.”

• And Mitsubishi now advertises “a curated lineup” of cars.

It’s phony sophistication. Let’s leave curated and curating to the museums.

Notes of All Sorts

Preventative is a needless variant of preventive. When you have a choice, the shorter word is almost always better.

Take myriad, for instance. It’s more concise than a myriad of. So go with “In his addiction, he used myriad (not a myriad of) drugs.”

Every time is always two words. Many writers try to conflate it to one, as in, “Everytime I hear that song, it brings a tear to my eye.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Plus, additional and also convey the same meaning in this sentence from a nutrition expert, writing in USA TODAY: “Plus, in addition to providing protein, these foods also supply additional vitamins and minerals that are important for metabolism and cell growth.”

• From the novel Murder on the Oxford Canal by Faith Martin: “It was an added bonus that the body had been found in a lay by.” A bonus is always added, is it not?

Word of the Month


Pronounced LOON-yool, it’s a noun meaning the crescent-shaped whitish area at the base of the fingernail, or any crescent-shaped mark, object, etc.

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