Saturday, October 12, 2013

The War on Words


I love the Language-Change Index in Garner’s Modern American Usage. The purpose of the index is to measure how widely accepted various linguistic innovations have become. Generally, acceptance of these “innovations” is exceedingly slow, which is fine with me, a true prescriptivist.


There are five stages to the acceptance of a new meaning for a word. Bryan Garner yesterday published examples of the five stages. They are listed below, with my comments appended.  


Stage 1 ("rejected"): A new form emerges as an innovation (or a dialectal form persists) among a small minority of the language community, perhaps displacing a traditional usage (e.g.: *"lended" for "lent"). “Lended”? Really? C’mon, people, only in deepest Appalachia is this uttered.

Stage 2 ("widely shunned"): The form spreads to a significant fraction of the language community but remains unacceptable in standard usage (e.g.: *"real trooper" for "real trouper").
Have seen this. It’s not uncommon. Hoping it will remain at Stage 2.

Stage 3 ("widespread but . . ."): The form becomes commonplace even among many well-educated people but is still avoided in careful usage (e.g.: "usage" misused for "use").
Sorry, folks, but I have been guilty of this myself a few times, but it is an affectation.

Stage 4 ("ubiquitous but . . ."): The form becomes virtually universal but is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts (die-hard snoots) (e.g.: *"is comprised of" for "comprises").
I am a stickler about this, but you do see it in some respected publications. Remember, the whole comprises the parts. So, “The team comprises 24 distinct personalities.”

Stage 5 ("fully accepted"): The form is universally accepted (not counting pseudo-snoot eccentrics) (e.g.: "daylight-savings time" for "daylight-saving time").
I made a point of this in an early column, pointing out that the phrase had nothing to do with money – “savings” – so it is daylight-saving time. And, prescriptivist that I am, I’m sticking to that. And, incidentally, I resent the “pseudo-snoot eccentric” label.


And another thing . . .


            Today a reader sent a note calling out the Wilmington News Journal (again). In the local section, she spotted this: “Sleet eluded to potential difficulties if government . . .” This is the sign of a writer who reads very little, or who reads very little edited material. To the ear, “alluded” (the proper word here) sounds like “eluded” (meaning, of course, escaped), and the under-read not surprisingly might spell it that way. The authors, according to my reader, were Esteban Parra and Sean O’Sullivan. My money’s on the latter as the culprit, but an editor should have caught it. Amazing.

Got a comment or suggestion? Drop me a note at

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Got a comment from a reader about my misspelling usage as useage. Can only say mea culpa. Thought I ran spellcheck on that post.
      Incidentally, my website is now up and running, so I'll be doing most of my posts there. See

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


       Continuing the theme of lists, here are my picks for the most annoying people:
1. Howard Eskin. For those not in the larger Philadelphia area, he is (was) a sports talk radio host who recently was forced off his afternoon drive show because he was losing the ratings war to a rival. Eskin is the most egotistical, abrasive, crude radio personality I have ever heard.
2. Donald Trump. Another egotist who unfortunately did not run for president, as he threatened to do. I say unfortunately because he would have been eviscerated.
3. Ann Coulter. The conservative talker and columnist who, among other things, claimed that 9/11 widows were trying to profit from their husbands' sacrifice. Describes herself as "a mean-spirited, bigoted conservative." I couldn't agree more. Oh, and she dresses like a hooker.
     Wanna add to my list?

Even More Movies

As promised, here are more favorites, these from Joe M., in no particular order. These include one that has yet to be released (although the European version came out early this year). Again, those I agree with and were not on my list are boldfaced.

1) The Sound of Music

2) Silence of the Lambs

3) Bridge Over the River Kwai

4) Blues Brothers

5) Raiders of the Lost Ark

6) Jaws

7) Witness

8) Steel Magnolias

9) The Magnificent Seven

10) Forrest Gump

11) Godfather

12) Lawrence of Arabia

13) Airplane

14) Dances with Wolves

15) Rocky

16) Lonesome Dove

17) Gone with the Wind

18) Blazing Saddles

19) Pretty Woman

20) Stalag 17

21) Animal House

22) Alien

23) The Great Escape

24) The Shawshank Redemption

25) ET

26) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (soon to be released)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Movies, Continued

A Matter of Opinion

My list of movies has prompted a couple of responses, all via email since people continue to find it difficult to get into the blog to comment. Son Steven in particular has an extensive list, some of which I agree with (indicated by boldface) and should have included on my list:

1.     Pulp Fiction
2. Rocky (if only the fight scenes had been more realistic. Have never seen a man take such a beating and get back up -- and with such a display of spastic, over-acting energy!)

3. Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back

4. The Hustler

5. Road to Perdition

6. Forrest Gump

7. Scarface

8. Goodfellas

9. Casablanca (how did I overlook this?)

10. The Departed

11. Reservoir Dogs

12. The Green Mile (I know, a lot of Tom Hanks)

13. Full Metal Jacket

14. Independence Day

15. Ocean’s Eleven (the new version) and, I would add, Ocean's 12

16. No Country for Old Men -- definitely; and a great book

17. The Wizard of Oz

18. Kill Bill (Vol. 1 & 2)

19. Million Dollar Baby

20. Westside Story

Only two comedies in your list? How about some great comedies:

21. Office Space

22. Clerks

23. Airplane!

24. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

25. Vacation or Christmas Vacation
Steven's beloved spouse, DJ, adds A STAR IS BORN – Barbara Streisand & Kris Kristofferson version, and THE LION KING, and suggests we need a few chick flicks. OK, how about Crazy, Stupid Love?
And I'd like to add another I overlooked: Babel, from about four or five years ago.

A friend promises to send his list later tonight.

Can't do a posting without a language reference. Over at Spark, a Wilmington News Journal publication, the apostrophe fairy was loose, leaving random droppings. One of them wound up at the end of noggin, a synonym for head, as in "keep your noggin' warm . . ." Guess they think the actual word is "nogging." Once again, they would be wrong.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Movies and Turkey Day

       Having listed my favorite Western movies in a previous blog, it seems appropriate to name my favorite movies of all types. With the understanding that those Westerns match up well with those below, and would be interspersed throughout, here's my list, more or less in order:
1. Gone with the Wind
2. The Godfather -- Parts I and II (a tie)
3. It's a Wonderful Life
4. To Kill a Mockingbird
5. Saving Private Ryan
6. Cool Hand Luke
7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
8. Citizen Kane
9. Schindler's List
10. The Bridge Over the River Kwai
11. Crash
12. The Shawshank Redemption
13. A Chorus Line
14. Annie Hall
15. Chicago
16. Some Like It Hot
17. Raging Bull
18. The Graduate
19. Psycho
20. Lawrence of Arabia
21. The Deer Hunter
22. American Graffiti
23. Jaws
24. Taxi Driver
25. On the Waterfront

Upon re-examination, I might move some of these up or down  the list, and I'm sure others will occur to me later, but this will do for a start. How about you guys -- all six of you? What are your faves?

The Book Cometh -- Really
The War on Words book is almost ready for shipment. Should be here by this time next week. Order your copy now by going to the Out & About website: Price is $9.95 plus $3 shipping. Or contact me. The e-book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony and iBook for just $3.95.

Can't have a blog without a grammar mention. Spark continues to be ignorant of the difference between further and farther, opting for further every time. No doubt they think it sounds more sophisticated. Here's how to decide: If talking actual physical distances, use farther. Otherwise, as in "that couldn't be further from the truth," use further.

Those Republican Candidates -- Again
Really, now, are there any adults among this sorry group? They are so intent on pandering to the lowest common denominator in their party that they have adopted an anti-intellectual attitude. God forbid any of them supports global warming or the remote possibility that he or she might raise taxes. And Hermie Cain continues to implode. Asked if he supported Obama's stance on Libya the other day, he took a long pause, then gave an answer that he was obviously making up as he went along. Last night, he called moderator Wolf Blitzer "Blitz." Guess he was think the guy was Blitz Wolfer.
       This is sad. Looks like it will come down to Romney and Gingrich. Hard to believe, but I think Obama, as bad as he has performed, can beat either one.

It's been a tough year, or a tough two years, or three years -- more so for some of us than others. But I'm sure we all have something to be thankful for, so do that tomorrow. Thank whoever or whatever you find it appropriate to thank, and resolve to do your best in the coming year to deserve whatever good fortune may come to you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Media Miscues and More

Errant Broadcasters
Sadly, I must report that Todd Blackledge, quarterback of Penn State's 1982 national championship team, committed a miscue during his commentary on the Penn State-Ohio State game Saturday. Speaking of the rush put on the OSU quarterback, he said that Penn State was "trying to force him into an errant mistake." Not really a redundancy; more of a superfluosity. Much like Tim McCarver's comment about "a respite of rest." Proof once again that when these ex-jocks use any out-of-the ordinary word (e.g.,errant, respite), they run the risk of making fools of themselves.
Literallys of the Week
Mika Brezinski, she of "Morning Joe" fame on MSNBC, really needs to back off the literallys. She was literallying all over the broadcast yesterday. Example: "Newt Gingrich is literally on his high horse." Mika, baby, it means "actually, really." I doubt that Newt rides horses, high or otherwise.

Book Banter
Am trying to move up delivery of The War on Words book. It went on press today -- 1,000 copies. Should be here by end of the month. In the meantime, electronic versions are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony and iBooks.
    Speaking of the book, an old friend who has bought the Kindle version sent along these words for "lexiphiles" -- lovers of words:

You can tune a piano, but you can't tuna fish.

To write with a broken pencil is . . . pointless.

When fish are in schools they sometimes . . . take debate.

A thief who stole a calendar . . . got twelve months.

When the smog lifts in Los Angeles  . . . U.C.L.A.

The batteries were given out . . . free of charge.

A dentist and a manicurist married. . . . They fought tooth and nail.

A will is a . . . dead giveaway.

With her marriage, she got a new name . .. . and a dress.

A boiled egg is . . . hard to beat.

When you've seen one shopping center . . . you've seen a mall.

Police were called to a day care where a three-year-old was . . . resisting a rest.

Did you hear about the fellow whose whole left side was cut off? . . . He's all right now.

A bicycle can't stand alone . . . it is two tired.

When a clock is hungry . . .. it goes back four seconds

The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine . . . was fully recovered.

He had a photographic memory . . . which was never developed.

Those who get too big for their britches will be . .. . exposed in the end.

When she saw her first strands of gray hair, . . . she thought she'd dye.

Acupuncture: . . . a jab well done.
OK, so some of these are real groaners, but worth a laugh or two.