A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse
As Christmas arrives, remember how to pluralize your family name. Sign those cards “The Smiths,” not “The Smith’s” or “The Smiths’“ — no apostrophes!
• Josh Tolentino, in The Philadelphia Inquirer, committed a hall-of-fame-level dangling modifier: “Once considered a position of need, the Eagles signed veteran Steven Nelson during training camp to help solidify their depth and experience at defensive back.” The position of need is not the Eagles; it’s defensive back, which appears at the end of the sentence!
• Dan Wolken, in USA TODAY, perpetrated this 44-word example of bad, redundant writing: “We should know better than to look toward college sports looking for logical solutions to problems, for cooler heads to prevail or for grown-ups to actually look out for the welfare of the so-called student-athletes as much as they like to pretend they do.”
• The Associated Press, describing the Atlanta Braves’ victory parade: “The route took the busses, floats, and pickup trucks past a memorial to late Hall of Famer Hank Aaron . . .” We’re sure there were many kisses (busses) thrown at the Braves, but they were riding in buses.
• Eagles Coach Nick Sirianni, during one of his oral-salad press conferences: “We need to hone in on being able to make throws from the pocket.” One homes in on an objective. Hone means to sharpen.
• Like “home in,” “tough row to hoe” is often misused, as in this example from Politico, submitted by reader Joe Martz: “‘The committee has a tough road to hoe,’ said former House counsel Stan Brand.” The phrase refers to hoeing a row of crops on a farm. Hoeing a road is impractical, if not impossible.
• A host on 97.5 The Fanatic: “Sam Darnold deserves a healthy modicum of respect.” A modicum is by definition small; it cannot be healthy.
• Reader Debbie Layton submits her pet peeve from a story about Delaware health sites in The News Journal: “These staffing issues have resulted in nurses caring for more patients than what many feel is safe.” “Why,” Debbie asks, “is ‘what’ necessary here?”
• Similarly, The Inquirer’s Josh Tolentino wrote this about a fan throwing flowers at the Eagles head coach: “Sirianni did give a long look in the direction where they came from as a security officer guided him into the tunnel.” Where is a sloppy addition to this sentence.
Department of Redundancies Dept.
Bill Cosby’s spokesman said his legal team “will vigorously fight any alleged allegations.”
Mike Freeman in USA TODAY: “It is one of the most unique stories told about race, . . .” re Colin Kaepernick’s Netflix series Colin in Black and White.
Two pages later Mike Jones authored this sentence: “There he [Ravens QB Lamar Jackson] was again, . . . further proving himself as one of the most unique talents the league has ever seen.”
Note to Freeman and Jones: Unique means “one of a kind.” It has no degrees, takes no adjectives.
Reader Geena Khomenko George disputes a redundancy we cited in October: “Despite your comment, ‘the play is under further review’ is actually correct. The initial review of the play was made by the officials on the field. Further review is conducted when the call on the field is challenged.” Turns out Geena is correct when referring to the college game, where a replay official must review every play. In the NFL, however, only scoring plays and those involving change of possession are routinely reviewed. In the final two minutes, plays are subject to review from NFL observers upstairs.
Literally of the Month
Sixers Coach Doc Rivers doubled down in The Inquirer when asked if the team has to assume Ben Simmons will play for them this season: “Well, we have to. As a coach I’m literally in a tough spot, right? We literally have to.”
Word of the Month
Pronounced uh-TRYT, as an adjective it means regretting one’s wrongdoing only because of fear of punishment. As a verb it means to wear down, erode, or weaken through sustained attacks, friction, etc.
Follow me on Twitter: @thewaronwords
Need a Speaker for your Organization?
Contact me for a fun presentation on grammar: email@example.com.
Buy The War on Words book at the Hockessin Book Shelf or by calling Out & About at 655-6483.