The War On Words – August 2020

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A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

Media Watch

• Sportscaster Dan Patrick (yes, him again) on his radio show, spoke of the 2020 baseball season as “unchartered waters.” He meant uncharted, which means “not recorded or plotted on a map or a chart.” Remember: Never take a chartered boat into uncharted waters.

• Xerxes Wilson in The Wilmington News Journal: “. . . up and down the boardwalk, and on the sidewalks of the popular tourist town, many people were abiding the rules . . .”  Used this way, abiding must be followed by the preposition by. Abiding, by itself, means “continuing without fading or being lost.” As we learned from The Big Lebowski, “The Dude abides.”

• Brian Truitt in USA TODAY, writing about Jon Stewart’s latest movie, Irresistible: “Stewart most impresses by hoeing a familiar folksy road . . .” You hoe a row (of corn, tobacco, cotton, etc.). You cannot hoe a road.

• Josh Peter, also in USA TODAY, on the plethora of George Floyd merchandise: “Yes, underwear, $18 for three pair.” Pairs! Apparently, because the word connotes two, writers often ignore the plural form.

• A reader reports that golf broadcaster Nick Faldo said, “They told we announcers to shut up.” This is another instance of phony sophistication. The correct pronoun here is us, but Faldo obviously thought “we” sounds more sophisticated. This is similar to instances where people incorrectly insert whom into sentences, such as this one from Bryan Alexander in USA TODAY, discussing Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw:Whomever this future villain is, expect a major name.”

• We thought Michelle Obama was perfect, but apparently not. It was revealed that, in a Father’s Day message to Barrack, she wrote: “We feel your warmth and generosity today and everyday.” Everyday is an adjective, meaning occurring daily – every day.

For our last four items, we turn to The Philadelphia Inquirer:

• Reader Charlene McGrady spotted this in an AP story in The Inky: “You have the 4 million Obama 2012 voters that sat out in ‘16 – Obama obviously has cache with them.” A cache (pronounced cash) is a collection of items of the same type stored in a hidden or inaccessible place. What the writer was groping for was cachet (pronounced cash-AY), which refers to prestige or a mark or indication of superior status.

• Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson, quoted in a story about guard Brandon Brooks’ Achilles tear: “My heart sunk when I got the news.” That’s sank, Coach.

• Sportswriter Bob Brookover: “Girardi also squashed the idea of replacement ball.” One quashes ideas.

• Brookover’s colleague, Matt Gelb: “In 1949, the Phillies’ lineup was completely different than the one that started 1948.” Things and people are different from, not different than. From is used for contrast, than for comparison, as in “I can run faster now than I could last year.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Speaking of different, the word often is used in a redundant manner. E.g., “I have visited 15 different states”; “he read 10 different books about meditation”; “she was accepted by five different colleges.” In these contexts, it’s an unnecessary, throwaway word.

Gadzooks!

Fellow grammarian Ben Yagoda, author of When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It, reports that The New York Times apparently finds “whilst” acceptable, citing this example: “Whilst U.S. coronavirus infections surge, President Trump is scheduled to travel to North Dakota . . .” Sad. 

Just sayin’ . . .

• Okay, I officially hate the word “pivot.” Its use is pervasive, extending the meaning of “change, switch, transform” far beyond reason. E.g., a reader reports that in meetings, her group now “pivots” to the next item on the agenda. Ridiculous.

• As an alumnus (not an “alumni”; I’m only one person), it saddens me to call out this (wordy) sentence from the Penn State Athletic Department: “We continue to support our student-athletes in using their voice and their platform to protest in a peaceful manner in order to affect change.” That’s effect change, the rare case in which effect is a verb meaning “to bring about.”

Word of the Month

elide
Pronounced ah-lide, it’s a verb meaning to suppress or alter something, such as a vowel or syllable, or to strike out something, such as a written word.

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