By Bob Yearick
•Barbara VanDenburgh, in USA TODAY, commenting on the book Raw Dog: The Naked Truth about Hot Dogs, by Jamie Loftus: “Podcaster and comedian Loftus turns her curiosity and whit on the humble hot dog.” That’s wit. Whit is “a very small part or amount.”
•Filmmaker Ben Berman, quoted in The Inquirer: “The amount of times the word exploitation left our mouths when we were making this documentary were, well, you couldn’t even count.” For plurals — in this case, times — use number.
•And then there was this internet headline: “Sophie-Alexandra Evekink marries Prince Ludwig of Bavaria in beautiful floral dress.” I’ll bet the prince looked smashing in that dress.
Phony Sophistication: Whom/Whomever
There are words, like whilst, amongst, and of-ten (with a hard t), that people sprinkle into their conversations in a vain attempt at sophistication. While they may sound phony, these words are usually used correctly. Not so for two other words that are favorites of would-be sophisticates: whomever and whom. These relative pronouns are often misused. Here are two recent whomever examples:
•From a North Wilmington neighborhood Facebook page: “Thank you to whomever (whoever) put this sunshine sticker on the telephone pole!”
•Michael Smerconish on his eponymous CNN Saturday morning show: (Speaking of the next presidential election) “Our support of Ukraine may be endangered by whomever (whoever) wins this thing.”
The presence of whoever/whomever indicates a dependent clause, and the rule is to choose the pronoun that agrees with the verb in that dependent clause, regardless of the rest of the sentence.
These are, admittedly, tricky choices. In the first sentence, the preposition to precedes the dependent clause, so you may think the objective whomever is the right choice. But remember, the relative pronoun is linked to the verb put. Thus, whoever would be the choice.
Similarly, in the second instance, the preposition by precedes the dependent clause, but the relative pronoun is linked to the verb wins. So, once again, whoever is correct.
How Long, Oh Lord, How Long?
(In which we address the ongoing abuse of the apostrophe)
•A chyron (a graphic that overlays video content) on NBC’s Today: “THAT 70’s SHOW ACTOR GUILTY IN RAPE RETRIAL.” We get a two-fer here. Numerals indicating decades are plurals, so there is no need for an apostrophe after the number. But they do require an initial apostrophe, indicating the missing 19 or 20. So it would be “That ‘70s Show.” Incidentally, the show itself got the apostrophe placement right.
•A reader sends this headline from a Sports Illustrated email to golfers: “Rory’s Take on LIV’ers in Ryder Cup.” In this case, the apostrophe would seem to indicate a missing letter or letters, but none are missing. It’s simply a plural. So, no need for the apostrophe.
•Also, see the photo at the bottom left.
•It’s “first come, first served,” not first come, first serve. The latter implies that the first to arrive will do the serving.
•It’s “shoo-in,” not shoe-in. As in, “Shoo, move along.” Shoes have nothing to do with it.
•And please remember, it’s “I couldn’t care less,” not I could care less. If you could care less, it means you care at least a little bit.
Department of Redundancies Dept.
•Mike Sielski in The Inquirer: “’What’s past is prologue’ has become a popular cliché.” A cliché, in addition to betraying a lack of original thought, is “a phrase or opinion that is overused” — i.e., popular.
•From reader Jane Buck comes this Washington Post headline: “Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) formally kicks off presidential campaign, saying, ‘Our nation is retreating away from patriotism and faith.’” As opposed to retreating toward patriotism and faith?
•Doug Smith, of the Toronto Star, commenting on the defensive strategies employed by Nick Nurse, new head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers: “Probably the most favorite example was using a box and one defense on Stephen Curry.” You can only have one favorite, Doug.
Word of the Month
Pronounced ahp-pro-brium, it’s a noun meaning harsh criticism or censure.
Follow me on Twitter: @thewaronwords
Need a Speaker for your Organization?
Contact me for a fun presentation on grammar: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Buy The War on Words book at the Hockessin Book Shelf or by calling Out & About at (302) 655-6483.