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


Media Watch

• In USA Today, Mick Cronin, new basketball coach at UCLA, said: “I caught an interview where coach Wooden said only the guy who immediately proceeded him (Gene Bartow) would have to deal with that [Wooden’s legacy].” Cronin meant succeeded, of course.

• Tyrone Johnson, producer on the Mike Missanelli Show (97.5 The Fanatic): “We gave away less prizes today.” Like many people, he doesn’t seem to know that “fewer” should be used when referring to plurals.

• From presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke in The New Yorker: “I almost could care less” (about where he stands on the political spectrum). The phrase is couldn’t care less.

• Subhead in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Burlco drug dealer sold the heroin that lead to a Marlton teen girl’s death.” The past tense of the verb lead is led.

• Also in the Inky, Joe Douglas, former vice president of player personnel for the Eagles, said this about running back Donnel Pumphrey: “Lightening feet, great feet . . .” We’re sure Joe pronounced lightning correctly, but the writer added an e.

• And apparently the editors of Entertainment Weekly don’t read “War.” The cover slug line for the Summer Preview Issue was “The Kids Are Alright.” As we know (Don’t we, dear readers?), all right is two words.

Mixed Metaphors

Metaphors are effective if used correctly, but they lose much of their power when mixed. Two examples:

• In the National Geographic Channel’s The Hot Zone, one character speaks of another having “hitched herself to the wrong horse.” The correct term is “don’t hitch your horse to the wrong wagon.”

• A talk show host on 97.5 The Fanatic said that a coach “should have fallen on his shield.” He meant “fallen on his sword” as an indication of guilt, or accepting blame. He was mixing that phrase with “come home with your shield or on it”—the admonition of Spartan mothers as their sons marched off to battle.

Literally of the Month

Mike Wolfe, on American Pickers, excited about discovering a 1950s Austin Healy: “I’m literally in the stratosphere to have found this!” Courtesy of reader Larry Kirchner.

Sign at Metro Diner. “Reeses” is missing an apostrophe (Reese’s), and it’s “a la mode.

Prone, supine, prostrate

All three words refer to body positioning, with slight differences. Prone generally means lying face down, supine means lying face up, and prostrate means stretched out lying flat, face down, often submissively. The words also have other uses: “Prone” can mean “having a tendency” and connotes vulnerability, while “supine” suggests a “willful inactivity or lethargy.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.

On his radio show, Dan Patrick, one of our regulars, recently uttered the phrase “the general consensus.” Consensus means “a general agreement.” Could have been worse. He could have used the even wordier “general consensus of opinion.”

Jim Jackson, sometime radio play-by-play guy and post-game host for the Phillies, recently used that old Yogi Berraism “déjà vu all over again.” Can we retire this tired redundancy? Déjà vu means “the feeling that one already had this experience,” so “all over again” is unnecessary.

And finally, we give you the most redundant name in sports: The Los Angeles Angels, which translates to “the the angels angels.”

How Long, Oh Lord, How Long?

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

A Coppertone ad contains this line: “You’re gonna’ love this.” No, we’re not. What possible purpose does the apostrophe serve here?

Of Pet Peeves

In a Q&A in USA Today, Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors was asked: “How good of a golfer are you?” And we frequently hear the phrase “not that big of a deal.” The of in both those instances is unnecessary and demonstrates a lack of literary sophistication. As one of the writers at The Grammarphobia blog points out, “An extra word can be justified if it serves an emphatic or supportive purpose, as in ‘first time ever’ or ‘three different times.’ Adding of to ‘not that big a deal’ and ‘not that good a movie’ serves no emphatic or supportive purpose.”

Word of the Month


Pronounced ne·ol·o·gism, it’s a noun meaning a new word, usage, or expression.

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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.

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