The War On Words – September 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

Thanks, USA TODAY, for filling this entire section.

• Our first entry is courtesy of Grace Z. Li, whose book review contained this: “It’s what she learned to live with while stuck in an unhappy marriage, one borne out of necessity.” Borne is the past participle of bear, which means “carried or transported.” What Li meant was born. Later in the review, Li writes: “Scenes where Linda craves forgiveness or approval from Marta beg the question: Why does Linda want Marta to perform this work?” I know this is a losing battle (one in which some linguists have already raised the white flag), but this phrase does not mean “brings up (or raises) the question.”

• Then there was writer Jessica Menton: “But she has put in fewer hours with less clients due to socialdistancing measures.” You started out so well, Jessica, with the correct “fewer” for a plural noun, but somehow you failed to carry through. When referring to plurals, avoid less, always use fewer.

• Seems that sports columnists at USA TODAY are given to inventing new meanings for words. Take Jeff Zillgitt, for instance:  “Playing like they have been, it’s easy to fathom the Lakers with three losses in a series earlier than expected.” Fathom means to “understand” or “grasp,” neither of which fits in that sentence. “Imagine” is an appropriate substitution.

• Mark Medina: In a story quoting Jusuf Nurkic about how Portland Trail Blazer teammate Carmelo Anthony has been supportive: “Nurkic mused that Anthony was in the room.” Muse: “To be absorbed in thought or say to oneself in a thoughtful manner.” Neither definition fits here. “Noted” would be a suitable verb here. Or he could have gone with the newsman’s standard attribution verb—said.

Media Watch, Mark Medina Category

Medina, the paper’s NBA reporter, is embedded in the league’s bubble at the Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, from whence he unleashed these trainwreck sentences:

• “Stotts became pleasantly surprised at how well-conditioned Anthony stayed in shape for almost an entire year after he was waived.” A bizarro redundancy that an editor should have caught.

• “But unlike during the Heat’s first scrimmage, though, they won’t be able to call off the game.” Two qualifiers in the same sentence?

Again, where are the editors?

Then there was this gem, couched in first-person reporting: “So when I interviewed Warriors forward Draymond Green the following day about his social justice projects and his appearance on a new TNT show, I changed a different tact when the health officials knocked on the door.” The word is “tack,” and the phrase is “took a different tack.”

Danglers

August was a great month for dangling modifiers. Here’s proof:

Reader Karen Jessee was perusing a CNN story titled “Inside the Final Resting Place of Tutankhamun’s Treasures” when she came across this sentence describing Howard Carter, founder of the treasures: “A meticulous, demanding man, Egyptology will forever owe him an immense debt.” We’re fairly sure Egyptology is not the name of a man.

Richard Engel, NBC News correspondent, reporting on the explosion in Beirut: “Traveling faster than the speed of light, people couldn’t get out of the way of the blast.” Lebanon needs to enlist those people for the next Olympics.

Reporters William Bender and Barbara Laker combined for this one in the Philadelphia Inquirer:  “After being placed in the back of a police cruiser, the arresting officer asked Komorowski if he had a gun in his vehicle.” Doesn’t the arresting officer usually occupy the front seat?

Department of Redundancies Dept., COVID Category

PPE equipment, items, gear. Remember, PPE stands for “personal protective equipment.”

Facebook Follies

“Loose” incorrectly used in place of lose is one of the most frequent mistakes on Facebook. Question for those people: If you think lose is spelled l-o-o-s-e, how do you think loose is spelled? Surely you understand that lose (to be deprived or cease to have) is pronounced looz, and loose (not firmly or tightly fixed in place; detached) is pronounced loos.

Word of the Month

palmary
Pronounced PAL-muh-ree, it’s an adjective meaning of supreme importance; outstanding; praiseworthy.

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