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

Media Watch

Sports of All Sorts

• Reader/writer Larry Nagengast submits this from a Sarah Gamard election advance on Delaware Online:  “And while Witzke has reigned in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash, Coons sits on millions.” The correct phrase is “reined in.” Reign means to rule as a king or queen.  Larry also notes that the subhead directly under that paragraph delivered one of our perennials: “Democrats hone in on remaining Republicans in New Castle County.” To repeat: You home in on something. To hone is to sharpen

• A Philadelphia Inquirer story co-bylined by Marc Narducci and Keith Pompey included this: “. . . [Dan] Burke didn’t exactly talk about the Sixers in complementary terms during a television interview.” That should be complimentary. Complementary means matching or supporting.

• Like many sports writers, USA TODAY’s Dan Wolken insists on adding the unnecessary of to this phrase: “He (Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence) might throw just as good of a ball as Ohio State’s Justin Fields.”

• In an interview with policemen, NBC’s Kate Snow uttered this: “Between the five of you, you have [didn’t catch the number] years of experience in law enforcement.” When more than two people or things are involved, the correct preposition is among.

• A reader gives us yet another nugget from Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY sports columnist: “The Tampa Bay Rays could care less what anyone thinks of them.” The correct phase, as we’ve mentioned several times, is “couldn’t care less.”

• Reader Larry Kerchner caught the governor of Nebraska mixing his metaphors: “Republicans are looking down the barrel of a blue tsunami.

• Rick Jensen, on his eponymous talk show on WDEL, was speaking about his party (Libertarian) when he used the phrase “not beholding to.”  The word is “beholden,” which means being under obligation for a favor or gift. Beholding means seeing or observing.                                                                                                                 

• Martin Frank, in The Wilmington News Journal:  “So it’s kind of ironic that the Eagles and Steelers have sort of switched philosophies with regards to running backs.” No need for the s at the end of regard. Similarly, writers often add an unnecessary s to anyway, toward, downward, upward, and other words that I can’t think of right now.

• From TheWeek.com: “The President’s family appeared to flaunt local ordinances while attending the presidential debate on Tuesday.” The correct word here is flout—to ignore, defy, disobey (they weren’t wearing masks). Flaunt means to display or exhibit.

• An NPR announcer stated that a plaque honoring Woodrow Wilson at Princeton University will be “changed to one honoring a Black alumni.” It will honor a Black alumnus. Alumni is plural. Common mistake.

Literally of the Month:

A reader submits this New York Post gaffe: “The Friars Club has suspended all operations because of a flood that has literally turned the East 55th St. clubhouse into the Titanic.” Look out for icebergs, Friars!

Department of Redundancies Dept.

• Stephen King has been praised for his story-telling, not so much for his stylistic perfection. So there was this from his short fiction piece, In Slide Inn Road, in Esquire: “Billy returns back to his game.”

• From a story in The Inquirer: “[West Chester University] also announced it would not be competing in any sports competitions for the rest of the academic year. . . West Chester is believed to be the first area college to cancel all sports competition for the full academic year due to COVID-19.” So, all games are cancelled. Got it.

So: Sew or Sow?

In all the political back-and-forth on Facebook, I came across this inaccuracy: “You reap what you sew” (a warning from several right-wingers about the Biden administration).  Sewing involves needles and threads. Sowing is the act of planting seed by scattering it on the earth. So it’s “reap what you sow.

Department of ‘HUH?’

From a radio ad for an organization called Help Heal Veterans: “At a time in history when kindness is a virtue . . .” Just wondering: at what time in history was kindness not a virtue? That said, it seems to be a fine organization. More here: healvets.org.

Word of the Month


Pronounced TRUHM-puh-ree, it’s a noun meaning something showy but worthless; nonsense or rubbish, or deceit, fraud, trickery.

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