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


Turning over most of this section to readers, I give you . . .

Luann Haney, multiple winner of “War” contests, who offers this from an obituary in the Williamsport (Pa.) Sun-Gazette: “She is predeceased in death by her husband.”

Uber-journalist Larry Nagengast, who spotted this one by Matthew Prensky of the Salisbury Daily Times, in a story about President Biden’s visit to Rehoboth: “[businesses] will have to follow strict rules that must be followed.” Larry says this falls under the “Do I make myself clear?”category.

Larry Kerchner, another multiple winner in our contests, who notes that, in a TV show titled Air Disasters, an aviation expert declared that a crash had resulted in “a fatal loss of life.” As Larry points out, there are no non-fatal losses of life.

And finally, long-time reader Debbie Layton, who caught this by columnist Noella Sudbury, in Delawareonline: “But as people begin to re-enter the workforce again . . .”

     And here are a couple from your columnist:

• Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY sportswriter: “[Tim] Duncan provided leadership, establishing an ethos that permeated throughout the organization.” Permeate: to spread throughout (something); pervade.

• The excellent new film The Courier is introduced with these words: “In 1960, the world was on the verge of imminent destruction.” There are two choices here: “. . . the world was on the verge of destruction,” or “. . . the world faced imminent destruction.”


• Headline from The News Journal:  “Wilmington’s inner-city Sinatra singer just landed on national TV. He could care less.” So he in fact could care. As noted here numerous times, it’s “couldn’t care less.”

• Reader Mimi Gregor caught this in TNJ: “For some, ditching their masks when the new rules went into effect Friday signified the beginning of the end of the pandemic and brought a feeling of normalcy that had alluded them for months.”  To allude is to refer to or mention. The word needed here is eluded (escaped, evaded).

• Another reader says TNJ reported that a man “died Easter Sunday on what would have been he and his wife’s wedding anniversary.” That should be the possessive his.

• From the website of the National Council of Space Grant Directors: “The projects run the gambit of NASA’s missions . . .” That’s gamut — range, scope. Gambit is a ploy, strategy, or scheme.

• Basketball legend Michael Jordan, in a speech during ceremonies honoring the late Kobe Bryant: “People always talked about comparisons between he and I.” Mike went 0 for 2 here. The preposition between takes objective pronouns – him and me.

• A reader sends this strange word combination from an article in Delaware Today titled “Coastal Dining”: “. . . the restaurant is approved to extend seating into the parking lot this summer to serve as many guests as possible while still abiding to COVID-19 protocols.” The writer should have chosen abiding by or adhering to.

• Phillies radio play-by-play guy Scott Franzke is one of the best, but when the netting behind home plate collapsed during a June game, he referred to the guide wires holding up the netting. Strange as it sounds, those are guy wires.


A reader reports that new employees at her workplace receive orientation, after which they often say they have been orientated. This a back formation from orientation and is sometimes used humorously, but they would be better served to say “I received orientation.”


Last month, we discussed whether “best foot forward” shouldn’t be “better foot forward,” since we have only two feet. This month we’re wondering about the expression “in the worst way,” which sounds like a negative but always expresses a positive. E.g., “He wants to win in the worst way.” Why not “in the best way”? Sometimes the expression becomes a bit ironic. Take the case of the Green Bay Packers, who have done little to placate disgruntled quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur recently said the team “wants Aaron Rodgers back in the worst way.” Subliminal message there, Matt?


Pronounced al-TER-uh-tee, it’s a noun meaning otherness: the state or quality of being other or different.

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