A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse
Literally of the Month
An Associated Press story on the death of Jim Langer, Pro Football Hall of Famer who played center, said that “[Langer] was literally in the middle of the Miami Dolphins 1972 perfect season . . .” Attempting to be clever, the writer was merely cute—and wrong. To say that a center, because of his position, is literally in the middle of an entire season is a bridge too far. In many formations, the center isn’t even in the exact middle of the offensive line.
Department of Redundancies Dept.
• The Galveston, Texas, chief of police characterized an incident in which two mounted officers brought a man to jail at the end of a rope as “an unnecessary embarrassment.” As opposed to a necessary embarrassment?
• Reader Janet Strobert says that the book Angel Tracks in the Himalayas, by Gary Shepherd, contains this sentence: “Time went into slow motion as I ascended upwards, my eyes fixed incredulously on the snake.” Rarely, if ever, does one ascend downwards.
• According to Contributing Writer Larry Nagengast, a News Journal story noted that Delaware State Auditor Kathy McGuinness’ office “will hit more required mandates this year.”
• And finally, Good Morning America, reporting on the accident involving Kevin Hart on Sept. 1, asserted that his car was completely totaled.
It pains us to report that the sainted Michelle Obama, in commenting on her best-selling book, Becoming, said this: “What’s both humbled and heartened me is seeing the resiliency of my daughters.” Resiliency will probably slip by most spell checkers, but it’s a needless variant of resilience.
Reader Linn Goddess notices that Donald Trump is in the habit of saying “I feel badly” when a cohort, cabinet member, staffer or adviser is convicted of a misdeed (or two). She asks: “Shouldn’t he be saying, ‘I feel bad’?” The answer: yes. To feel badly is to indicate that your sense of touch is not right. Unfortunately, this is a bit of phony sophistication (again) that is all too common.
Media Watch: Triples, Doubles and Singles
• WDEL 1150 AM scored a triple on a recent morning: An ad stated that Dr. Michael Axe and his achievements have “brought notoriety (being well known for some bad quality or deed) to Delaware”; a sports report blamed the Phillies for “laxadaisical (lackadaisical) hustle”; and, in a Department of Redundancies Dept. effort, a reporter spoke of a dangerous dog’s previous history.”
• Meanwhile, Rob Demovsky, ESPN correspondent, hit a double in his report on the Green Bay Packers’ new coaching staff and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He rounded first base with “This will be the first iteration of this offense.” Iteration means the repetition of a process or utterance. A better choice might’ve been version. Demovsky slid into second with: “Game planning has been a creative, collaborative effort between both he [Rodgers] and the coaching staff.” The preposition between takes the objective pronoun him.
• In an August column, USA TODAY’S Bob Nightengale also doubled. First there was this: “[Phils Manager Gabe Kapler] sits behind the desk in the visiting manager’s office, oozing of calmness and serenity.” One does not ooze of something; one simply oozes. The columnist then followed with this bit of muddled mathematics: “They have fallen to third place in the division . . . with their playoff odds plummeting to 19.5 percent . . .” That’s a percentage, not odds. Translated, 19.5 percent would put the Phils’ odds of making the playoffs at about 1 in 5.
• Over in USA TODAY’S Entertainment section, Bryan Alexander hit a single with this bit of phony sophistication– a misuse of whomever in a discussion of the movie Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw: “Whomever this future villain is, expect a major name.”
• And reader Maria Hess caught a safety spokesperson on NBC’s Today show advising viewers to check government websites that “aggravate information.” Maria says she’s sure the expert wasn’t really telling viewers that these websites make information worse; she assumes he meant aggregate—to form or group into a class or cluster.
Word of the Month
Pronounced de-RI-sery, it’s an adjective meaning ridiculously small or inadequate.
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