The War On Words – May 2021

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

The Wilmington News Journal leads off with a triple play:

A reader sent this headline: “Replacing damaged road signs are costly.” The subject of the sentence is replacing, not signs,
so the verb should be is.

• A story about the New Castle County Chamber
of Commerce referred to “chamber of commerces.” It’s chambers of commerce.

• And before it was corrected, a Delawareonline
story about legalizing recreational marijuana spelled it marijuanna throughout.

AM radio station WDEL published its take on the same subject, reporting that the bill would “regulate the oversite and license issuing.” The word is oversight.

And that most venerated of newspapers, The New York Times, in a story about the backlog of goods caused by the Suez Canal traffic jam, referred to “a finite amount of big containers in the world.” When dealing with plurals, the correct term is number, as any NYT reporter or editor should know.

Let’s end with a couple of press releases from the inbox:

Many publicists (and journalists, for that matter) insist on putting a comma after a title that appears right before the person’s name, as in this press release from the Hotel DuPont: “’We are honored to see the hotel and the city of Wilmington receive such positive recognition,’ shared Hotel DuPont Managing Director, Greg Kavanagh.” Also: “shared”?

And from something called the Consumer Choice Center there was this: “When we compare plastic grocery bags to their alternatives, more often then not the alternatives have a higher environmental impact.” Then/than are often mixed up. Than is for comparisons; then is for time references.


Speaking of mix-ups, people including broadcasters and authors sometimes confuse, conflate, and generally mangle common expressions. A few examples:

On a Golf Channel broadcast, according to a reader, an announcer commented on a player going through an extended process of determining how to hit a putt.  When the process was over, the announcer said the golfer was “done with all the rigamaroo.”  He meant rigmarole “a long and complicated procedure.”

  Peter MacArthur, on WDEL, used the phrase “that puts the nix on that.” The correct phrase is “puts the kibosh on that.” A strange word that has been around for almost two centuries, kibosh is a noun meaning something that serves as a check or stop. Nix, on the other hand, is a transitive verb that means to veto, reject, or refuse to accept. E.g., “He nixed the idea.”

• In his latest Jack Reacher novel, The Sentinel, Lee Child uses the expression “get the lie of the land.” The commonly accepted term is “lay of the land” how something is organized. Some research reveals that “lie of the land” is the British version. Can’t fathom why Child would have his All-American boy Reacher utter such a foreign phrase.

• And finally, I came across a Facebook post that mentioned “getting down to brass tax.” The expression, of course, is brass tacks. And no, it wasn’t a reference to filing income tax returns.


From Blue White Illustrated, the Penn State sports magazine, we have this long one from reporter Dave Eckert: “Sifting through some of the box scores from Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich’s final season at Oklahoma State, the outcomes are staggering.”
The outcomes did not sift through the box scores, Eckert did.


With the start of baseball season, grammarians everywhere are faced with the age-old question, “RBI or RBIs?” Since the letters stand for “runs batted in” an argument can be made for RBI. Although somewhat illogical, however, it’s correct to treat the initials as a word and add an s RBIs. That is consistent with the plurals for such acronyms as RPMs (revolutions per minute), POWs (prisoners of war), WMDs (weapons of mass destruction), and MBAs
(Masters of Business Administration).


From a WDEL traffic report about construction on I-95 in Wilmington: “It’s literally a parking lot.” Yes, traffic is slowed to a stop, but no, it’s not a parking lot.

Word of the Month

Pronounced pet-tri-kor, it’s a noun meaning a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after
a long period of warm, dry weather.

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