Right vs. rite

Some writers are so used to hearing about “rights” that they forget about “rites.” Consider: The Declaration of Independence enshrined the idea of inalienable rights. The U.S. Constitution has a

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Watch your neck, Mrs. Malaprop

This grammatical lapse in Maureen Dowd’s column in The New York Times brings Mrs. Malaprop to mind (“… she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying”).

What she meant, of course, was “neck and neck,” like horses at a track or ostriches on the way to wherever ostriches go in a hurry. …

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Is bad usage infectious?

The answer is no, but it sure seems that way.
The flu is certainly infectious, but the writer of this ad meant “flue,” or the passageway for a chimney.
You can certainly go up a flue, but I haven’t figured out a way to go up a flu, even sarcastically. (Although I did once find a way to turn flu precautions into a rock concert in an airport bathroom.)

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This headline is not all right either

This headline shocked me awake the other morning.

It wasn’t what Paul Krugman had to say that bothered me (it did, of course, but in a different way); it was the use of “alright” in the headline.

You see, among those who know better, there is no such word. And the editors at The Times know better. …

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Steering into confusion

I used to work with reporters who would write that something was “thisclose” to happening, and then howl that their creativity was being stifled if anyone suggested inserting a space between “this” and “close.”

Yes, it just looked like a typo.

The spelling in this ad, I’m afraid, is no typo.

Rather, it’s a morsel from the gruel school of usage. …

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Confronting the zombies of troublesome usage

I don’t condone cannibalism, so I’d suggest using “number of people” instead of “amount of people.”

Then again, this is Halloween, that scare me for the fun of it day when people feast on the likes of “Night of the Living Dead.”

If I were to describe that movie, I’d have to say that “a ghastly number of zombies consume a large amount of townspeople.”

Don’t know the difference between “number” and “amount”? Read on.

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Finger me not

You were thinking of something dirty, weren’t you? Shame on you!

Actually, I was thinking of something dirty, too, but I chose not to say it.

Rather, I decided to think of this headline as a Murdochism, the sort of thing you see in Rupert Murdoch’s publications.

After some database research that involved stories about bank cashiers taunting customers with $1,000 bills, Frisbee-throwers injuring themselves, and lots of people wishing for good luck, I decided that the headline was not a Murdochism, after all.

I did come up with a new slogan for the Journal, though.

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No, it isn’t fair

It’s “fare,” as in something offered for entertainment or consumption.

When you mix up “fare” and “fair,” the conversation can quickly veer from homophones and proper usage to “Ghostbusters” and “The Wizard of Oz” to exhibitionists and Zucchini Weenis. Don’t believe me? Just keep reading. I’ll even throw in a side of deep-fried butter.

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An intents lesson

I suppose it’s possible that the “purposes” we describe here were “intensive” (a strength or intensity imposed from outside, according to American Heritage).

That’s not likely, though.

What we were after was “for all intents and purposes,” meaning “for all practical purposes.”

Oops. …

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Lead Head

“Led” and “lead” seem to cause nearly as many problems as “lay” and “lie.”

“Lead” (as a present tense verb) can mean “to guide or to show the way.” As a noun, it can also mean an element that used to be in gasoline and still weighs down some people’s butts. …

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But was it charged?

Yes, “battery” is the correct legal term for a beating, and this, no doubt, was taken directly from a police report.

But when I read this, all I could imagine was a crushed AAA lying in the gutter. Or maybe it was a nine-volt.

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A barrel of what?

We don’t hear much about “barrows” in the 21st century, which is no doubt why the folks having this garage sale listed a “wheel barrel” for sale.

There’s definitely a difference, though, between a wheelbarrow, which is a type of hand truck, and “wheel barrel,” which is a, a … garbage can?

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How a single letter sends meaning into retreat

Mark Twain once said that the difference between the right word and the almost right word was the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Let’s add this to Twain’s thought: The difference between the right spelling and the almost right spelling is the difference between clarity and hilarity.

Consider the accompanying example. …

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Down with up!

Actually, “up” is a perfectly good word.
Without “up,” we could “look at” a dictionary, but we’d never “look up” anything.
For all its usefulness, though, “up” makes a ghastly verb when used to mean “increase” or “improve.”

As if transformed, that cute, handy little word suddenly communicates with all the eloquence of a suppository. …

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