The War On Words – June 2021

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

MEDIA WATCH

• Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY sports columnist (yes, him again), referring to Astros Manager Dusty Baker and his team’s first visit to New York since the World Series cheating scandal of 2017: “ . . . he’s bracing for an atmosphere of loathe and hatred.” Loathe is a verb; Nightengale is trying to use it as a noun here. And if it were correct, it would be redundant. The verb means “to hate,” so we can only assume the (nonexistent) noun would mean hatred. A better choice: loathing.

• Amanda Fries in The News Journal: “. . . some of the top creditors . . .  have in recent years filed suits to recuperate millions of dollars.” The word Amanda wanted was recoup, meaning to recover.

• Reader Joan Burke spotted this headline in an email from CBS: “Philadelphia Weather: Sun To Peak Through As Region Sees Cold, Windy Temperatures.” Peak refers to a high point; peek, the correct word here, means a quick look or glance.

The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Phillies Manager Joe Girardi,  speaking about Dave Dombrowski, the club’s president of Baseball Operations, thusly: “Wherever he’s went, he’s been a winner.” Girardi, a graduate of Northwestern University, should know better. It’s “wherever he’s gone.”

• Girardi is not alone. While listening to sports talk radio during the three-day NFL draft, I heard many callers and hosts second-guess the Eagles picks. Almost always they used the phrase “I would’ve went with a (defensive back, offensive lineman, receiver, etc.).” The word “gone” does not seem to be in their vocabularies.

CHANGING EXPRESSIONS – AGAIN

As noted in last month’s column, people confuse, conflate, and generally mangle common expressions. Below are some that I came across since then. (Be prepared, this may become a regular feature.)

• A reader reports an email containing this: “Whoa is me.” Whoa indeed. The correct term is “woe is me.”

• From Facebook (which constantly commits grammatical atrocities): “Aren’t they one in the same?” That’s “one and the same.”

• While editing a book recently I came across the phrase “hair’s breath.” I’ve also seen “hare’s breath” (still wrong, but it makes more sense). The correct term is hair’s breadth.

• Nydia Han, reporter and anchor for 6abc WPVI-TV in Philadelphia, writing in The Inquirer: “I immediately felt a pit in my stomach.” The pit in this expression is an undefined area in one’s stomach, not an actual pit that one feels. The expression is usually “I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.”

• And finally, reader Barry Townsend gives us a new take on the expression “putting your best foot forward”: “I was thinking when I got up this morning that I can only put my better foot forward. I have a good foot, a better foot, but no best foot.” True. When two items, people, things (or feet) are involved, the comparative — better — should be used. When referring to three or more items, use the superlative — best.

DEPARTMENT OF REDUNDANCIES DEPT.

On NBC’s Sunday Morning with Willie Geist, a correspondent reported that “a deer went through the front windshield of a school bus.” I believe a vehicle has only one windshield, and it’s always in front.

ODDITY

When I give my talk about grammar, I almost always get questions I’ve never heard before. This was the case recently when I was asked the difference between out loud and aloud. Having never considered this, I did some research. Here’s what I found:

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, out loud first came onto the scene in 1821 as a colloquialism for aloud. This means it is considerably younger than aloud, which has a recorded date all the way back to 1374. Both function as adverbs and are generally used interchangeably, but there can be a difference.

Aloud means to say something audibly so people can clearly hear you. It contrasts to a whisper that cannot be heard.

Out loud means to say something loud enough to be heard. It is perhaps the preferred word choice to indicate a sudden outburst.

WORD OF THE MONTH

otiose
Pronounced odie-ose, it’s an adjective meaning serving no practical purpose or result.

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