The War On Words – November 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

The Corner Room in State College, Pa., inserted an errant apostrophe in this sign.

Sports of All Sorts

• Bob Nightengale, national columnist for USA TODAY: “We’ve saw teams playing home games in visiting cities . . .” Hard to believe he misused this simple construction. The past participle—seen—is the correct choice.

• Meanwhile, Bobby Nightengale, Bob’s son and baseball writer for the Cincinnati Inquirer, committed this atrocity:  “He urged (Reds Manager David) Bell to swing again. Bell winded his arm up and blasted the gong.” Wrong verb, wrong placement of up, and wordy. Bell simply wound up and blasted the gong.

The Wilmington News Journal’s sports pages have gifted us with this two-fer:

• “. . . Walter Connor, chairman of the DIAA’s officials committee, expressed concern that the return of sports amid the pandemic has exasperated the issue.” The writer meant exacerbated. Exasperated means to be frustrated or incensed.

• And a story about the State Board of Education voting on whether to have fall sports reported that “the process was overly excruciating.” A pain worse than death?

Other sports page miscues:

• Tom Moore, of the Bucks County Courier Times: “It’s important for him (LeBron James) to have enough cache with the young stars for them to respect him.” What Tom meant was cachet-—prestige, respect. Cache is a hoard or supply of something.

• Marc Narducci, in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “But, all of the sudden, his redshirt junior year was over.” The expression is “all of a sudden.” It’s a mystery to me why so many people get this wrong.

• Also in the Inky, EJ Smith fell into the old less/fewer trap: “[Trevor Williams’] absence in practice is still noteworthy since it will mean less reps with the Eagles’ starting unit . . .” Reps is a plural, EJ, so you should’ve written fewer.

Non-sports gaffes included these:

• Ellen Gray, in the Inky: “An adaptation of Ta-Nehisis Coates’ best-selling book and the 2018 Apollo Theater production that sprung from it . . .” That’s sprang, Ellen!

• Josh Peter, USA TODAY: “James T. Butts Jr., the mayor of this city (Inglewood, Calif.), has basked in triumph but expressed displeasure as an historic moment approaches.” Josh apparently forgot the rule about using a or an: The sound of a word’s first letter determines which to use. If the word starts with a vowel sound, use “an.” If it starts with a consonant sound (like “historic”), use “a.”

• Headline on NBC Nightly News: “70 Out of 100 Biggest Cities Are Lead by Democrats.” The past tense of lead is led.

• Reader Joan Burke says CBS Ch. 3 in Philly committed this headline error: “Homeless have been ordered to vacate the premise by 9 a.m.” Premises—a house or building, together with its land and outbuildings—is the correct word here. Premise is a previous statement or proposition from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion.

• Another reader reports that Barack Obama, in a post asking people to be active citizens, wrote this: “. . . to embrace your own responsibility as citizens, to make sure that the basic tenants of democracy endure . . .” Demonstrating once again that even the best and brightest of us commit this common mistake. The word is tenets.

• Keeping it politically balanced, we have this older item from President Trump: “I feel badly about Steve Bannon (being indicted).” One feels bad. Feeling badly implies that your sense of touch is not quite right. Again, common.

Pandemic Pandemonium

• A reader received an email relative to COVID-19 that said the content was “a bit technical but you could get the jest of it.” That would be gist. A jest is a joke or prank.

• Meanwhile, a nurse posted this on the Nextdoor Facebook page: “The testing has stopped for everyone unless you are sympathetic.” Pretty sure she meant symptomatic. Perhaps autocorrect reared its ugly head here.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Peter MacArthur on WDEL: “One of the oldest and most historic homes in Hockessin leaves its mark on history.”

Definitely one for the history books.

Word of the Month

Pangloss

Pronounced pan-gloss, it’s a noun meaning a person who is optimistic regardless of the circumstances

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