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


Media Watch

• Using of is superfluous and slipshod in phrases like “big of a”; nevertheless, it seems to be rampant. In The Philadelphia Inquirer, Erin McCarthy wrote: “She doesn’t have any idea how big of an NFL star her ‘Dada’ is.” Also in the Inky, Penn State football Coach James Franklin was quoted as saying, “He’s as impressive of a player as there is in the country.” Thankfully, two paragraphs later, writer Joe Juliano came along to salvage some respect for his paper: “The 6-foot-5, 265-pound junior is having as good a season as any player in the country.”

• Larry Nagengast, an O&A contributing writer, submits this from a column by Max Boot in The Washington Post: “House Republicans are now desperate to out the whistleblower so they can put this truth-teller through the ringer, too . . .” No bells are ringing here; that should be wringer—something that causes pain, hardship, or exertion.

• Mark Medina in USA TODAY: “[LeBron] James joked that those that doubt his acumen should ‘meet me at the cleaners.’”   Medina was referring to LeBron’s physical abilities, not his “keenness and depth of perception or discernment, especially in practical matters,” which is the definition of acumen.  Also, the careful writer would have made it “those who doubt.”

• Also in the sports pages of USA Today (a particularly fetid region of ungrammatical prose), we have this from Paul Myerberg: “Even still, the NCAA at first stone-walled . . .” Even still is a wordy construction; even is superfluous.

• Keith Pompey, in the Inky: “Thybulle is ahead of the learning curve, defensively, in regards to most rookies Brown has coached.” This is just sloppy writing. The phrase is in regard to, but Pompey really means “compared to.”

• Mike Kelly, guest columnist in the The News Journal: “Clinton is still a lightening rod.” That’s lightning. Many writers insist on adding an e in the middle. The same writers probably spell judgment judgement.

• An email from an organization named Retired in America had this egregious double superlative in the subject line: “12 of the Most Fanciest Retirement Home Communities and Their Rent Prices.”

• And finally, reader Mike Dinsmore caught The Washington Post in this blunder in an article on British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn: “The 70-year-old European-style socialist, who quotes Franklin Delano Roosevelt and used to peddle his bicycle to Parliament, is one of Britain’s least popular politicians.” You pedal your bike and peddle your wares.


A couple of words that seem to give writers trouble: foreword, denoting the short introduction to a book, is often written forward. And wary, which turns up as weary in sentences like this from Matt Breen of The Inquirer: “. . . Klentak, who is weary about signing pitchers to long-term deals . . .”

How Long, Oh Lord, How long

(In which we point out the continued abuse of that most misused punctuation mark, the apostrophe)

A reader submits this from the Williamsport (Pa.) Sun Gazette, in a story about the proposed city budget, which reported that two police officers will be added, but “That is fewer than in some recent year’s past.” Oh, and past is redundant.

In Related News . . .

Here’s a bit of grammar/sports trivia from George Wills’ book about Wrigley Field, A Nice Little Place on the North Side: When the statue of Ernie Banks was unveiled on March 31, 2008, the inscription read: “Lets play two” (Banks’ famous quote about playing doubleheaders). Two days later, the sculptor came to Wrigley early in the morning and added an apostrophe to “Lets.”

Literally of the Month

Hallie Jackson, MSNBC: “The other story that is quite literally brewing . .” I guess a broadcasting rule of thumb is, when literally isn’t enough, go with “quite literally.”

Just Wondering . . .

Once again, I heard a Philly TV on-camera talent pronounce “street” SH-treet. Why?

Word of the Month

Pronounced kan-trah-ta, it’s a noun meaning a dispute or argument, or an inopportune or embarrassing occurrence or situation.

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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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