The War On Words – October 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

• Gabe Lacques, in USA TODAY: “There’s intangibles, for certain.” This contraction is misused constantly by old reliable Gabe and others. Intangibles, a plural, means the verb should be are.

USA TODAY subhead: “Saints face potential crisis if neither Winston nor Hill can’t elevate their games.” Changing can’t to can would have corrected this double negative.

• Matt Breen, in The Philadelphia Inquirer: “The Phillies hit four homers, which equaled the amount they hit in the previous four games.” Yo, Matt, when dealing with countable nouns, like, for instance, homers, use number.

• Also in the Inky, we had this from Eagles reporter Jeff McLane: “Kelly, like Pederson, wasn’t adverse to analytics.” That should be averse — opposed, having a strong dislike. Jeff gets kudos, however, for his gracious response when notified of his miscue: “Ah thanks! Will fix.”

• A reader submits this from the Blue Delaware blog: “Tim Murphy resigned in disgrace in the face of duel sex and bullying scandals.” The blogger really meant dual, referring to two distinct types of scandals. A duel is a combat between two persons, things, or ideas.

• National Public Radio, the medium of choice among progressives and intellectuals (allegedly), is not without fault. Two recent examples:

1. “The main reason were the benefits that they would receive” – NPR announcer discussing why people change jobs. The subject is reason, so the verb should be was.

2. Another NPR commentator scored this double comparative: “They felt more safer at the airport in Kabul.”

• Nick Federoff, purveyor of a syndicated radio show on gardening, commits a couple of gaffes on his website. First, there is this: “A little introduction as to whom I am” (should be who). Further on: “Sporting a foot-long beard and an equally outrageous personality, Federoff’s national award-winning weekly radio show has been on the air since May 1986.” That long modifier is meant to describe Federoff, but as constructed the sentence refers to his radio show.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

• A reader caught Chrissy Evert, covering the U.S. Open, say that a player “is currently without a coach right now.

• Reporting on a Novak Djokovic match at the Open, an Associated Press correspondent wrote this: “. . . the ultimate outcome seemed fairly obvious after all of about 15 minutes.” Ultimate is superfluous here.

• And good ol’ Gabe Lacques, still at USA TODAY, came through for us again: “He led the American League in homes runs in 2013 and 2015 but also led the league in strikeouts as well.” Gotta cut back on those qualifiers, Gabe.    

• A reader heard Sharrie Williams, on Philadelphia’s Channel 6 Action News, inexplicably refer to “victims coming off a ship vessel.” Choose one or the other, but not both.

• With the advent of another football season, we will be treated, again and again, to that old referee’s refrain: “The previous play is under further review,” which implies that it has already been reviewed.

• And finally, Josh Tolentino, writing in The Inquirer’s sports pages: “Traditionally, starters typically don’t play in the preseason finale.” See previous item.

How long, oh Lord, how long?

(In which we call out misuse of that most maligned punctuation mark, the apostrophe)

Isabel Hughes, writing in the Wilmington News Journal: “While the devices are not fix-all’s, studies have shown cameras and light can reduce crime.” Why, we ask, is an apostrophe needed there?

Quashing this Trend

Reader Mimi Gregor laments the mistaken use of squash where quash should be the choice. She cites two recent examples from TNJ:

• “The best way to squash this [the Delta variant] and to prevent future mutations and more serious variants is everybody gets vaccinated now,” Rattay said.

• And in an op-ed piece by Scott Jennings there was this:  “But let’s be honest — liberals have long desired the power to squash conservative speech, even before today’s concerns about vaccine hesitancy.”

The careful writer uses squash only when referring to physically flattening  something by crushing or squeezing. Quash should be used in the figurative sense, meaning to cancel, put an end to, suppress.


Pronounced janus-fayst, it means having two sharply contrasting aspects or characteristics; insincere or deceitful – after Janus, the Roman god of doors, gates, and transitions.

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