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

Media Watch

First, a couple of head-scratchers:
• From USA TODAY: “The Duchess of Sussex’s voice will appear as the narrator on the Disney nature film ‘Elephant.’” Really? Can a voice appear?
• And reader Bruce Hudson submits this Wilmington News Journal headline: “Fire destroys yet-to-be-built two-story home in Ogletown.” Not sure how a house that hasn’t been built can be destroyed.

Some more run-of-the-mill gaffes:
• Reader Larry Kerchner submitted this from an article by Todd Perry in the online news source Upworthy, “a website dedicated to positive storytelling”: “Jimmy Carter built a solar farm in his hometown and it now powers half of the entire city.” Says Larry: “I guess that’s better than half of part of the city.”
• Reader Ellen Mitchell caught Mika Brzezinski in one of her many slip-ups.  Speaking of Donald Trump, the Morning Joe co-host said: “He could’ve gotten everything going far more quicker.”
• Sen. Chris Coons was called out by one of our regular readers for this phrase from the senator’s News Journal op-ed:  “And neighbors who, like Annie and I, . . .”. Some may forget that “like” is a preposition, therefore it takes the objective case, me.
• Another politician, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, encountered a pronunciation problem during one of his COVID-19 updates: “Coronavirus has increased at an horrific rate.” When a word begins with h and the first syllable is strongly pronounced, you should use a. And no, the governor didn’t pronounce it “orrific.”

Facebook Follies

During the shelter-in-place era, I found myself spending more time than usual on Facebook. The social medium reveals America’s most telling language lapses, most of which should have been corrected in middle school. Here are just a few of the most common:
• Then/than. Then, which is mainly an adverb, is usually used in relation to time – e.g., “I wake up, then I have breakfast.” It’s also used in if … then constructions, such as, “If you wake up late, then you might have to skip breakfast.” It also works as a noun meaning that time (e.g., “I wanted breakfast, but then was not a good time.”).

Than is a conjunction used primarily in making comparisons—e.g., “My breakfast is better than yours”; “I eat breakfast faster than you do.”
• A and an. See Gov. Cuomo item above.
• Alright. The correct term is all right.
• Can not. This is always one word – cannot.

Ah, Those Iconic Icons

Reader Walt DelGiorno and I have an ongoing discussion about the use of icon and iconic to describe almost anything that is a bit out-of-the-ordinary. Recently we jointly came across a couple that are especially strained:
• “An iconic admission”: Fox Sports commentator Clay Travis, referring to Michael Jordan’s admission, in the ESPN documentary The Last Dance, that he actually said, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” The comment was Jordan’s response when he refused to endorse a black Democrat who was opposing North Carolina Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, a known racist. Full disclosure: Travis wrote a book titled Republicans Buy Sneakers, Too: How the Left Is Ruining Sports with Politics.
• “Mustang Designer’s Iconic Legacy”: headline in USA Today. Let’s remember that an icon is an object of uncritical devotion, or an emblem or symbol. Not sure how a legacy qualifies.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

WDEL dominates this month’s entries.
• An announcer on the popular local AM station called the late Don Shula “the NFL’s most winningest coach.” Ah, the double superlative lives.
• “This was pre-recorded earlier this week”: announcement before a financial advice program aired on WDEL. I guess just recording it earlier wasn’t enough.
  And traffic reporter Mike Phillips came through with one of our favorites: “You are going to have to pre-plan your route.” Not enough to plan. You have to pre-plan.
• Finally, actor Chris Evans (Captain America), in an Esquire interview, commented about shooting a film near his Massachusetts home: “It was certainly a little added bonus.”

Word of the Month

Pronounced AM-bi-vuhrt, it’s a noun meaning one having characteristics of both extrovert and introvert.

Seen a good (bad) one lately?

Send your candidates to ryearick@comcast.net

Follow me on Twitter: @thewaronwords

Buy The War on Words book at the Hockessin Book Shelf or by calling Out & About at 655-6483.

Bob Yearick
The copy editor of Out & About, Bob Yearick retired from DuPont in 2000 after 34 years as an editor and writer. Since “retiring,” Bob has written articles for Delaware Today, Main Line Today and other publications. His sports/suspense novel, Sawyer, was published in 2007. His grammar column, “The War on Words,” is one of the most popular features in O&A. A compilation of the columns was published in 2011. He has won the Out & About short story contest as well as many awards in the annual Delaware Press Association writing contest.

    More in:War On Words