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penguin reference T H E P E N G U I N D I C T I O N A RY O F AMERICAN ENGLISH USAGE AND STYLE Paul W. Lovinger was a staff reporter and columnist for newspapers for two decades. His freelance writings include The Marijuana Question (with Helen C. Jones), a widely acclaimed study of the drug as viewed by scientists and users. He also writes songs, both music and lyrics (specializing in children’s and novelty). He lives in San Francisco. t h e P E N G U I N D I C T I O N A RY o f AMERICAN ENGLISH USAGE AND STYLE  A Readable Reference Book, Illuminating Thousands of Traps  That Snare Writers and Speakers pau l w. l ov i n g e r p penguin reference PENGUIN REFERENCE Published by the Penguin Group, Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2 Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England First published in the United States of America by Penguin Reference, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc., 2000 This eBook edition published in 2002 Copyright © Paul W. Lovinger, 2000 All rights reserved. Lovinger, Paul W. The Penguin dictionary of American English usage and style : a readable reference book, illuminating thousands of traps that snare writers and speakers/ by Paul W. Lovinger. p. cm. ISBN 0 7865 2886 9 Set in Minion with Schneidler Initials Designed by Betty Lew Map and endpapers by Mark Stein Studios Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability. First edition (electronic): November 2002 contents i n t ro du c t i o n : wat c h i n g o u r wo r d s vii g e n e r a l to p i c s xiii l e x i c o n , a to z 1 r e f e r e n c e wo r k s 487 i n t ro du c t i o n Watching Our Words Aim; Form The volume in your hands is meant to be both useful and enjoyable, a readable dictionary for all who are interested in our language. In A-to-Z form, it is mainly a guide to good usage of English, the American variety, contrasted with some 2,000 quoted examples of misusage and questionable usage. It does the job of “illuminating many traps and pitfalls in English usage” (as my editor puts it). I have sought to provide clear explanations in plain language. This book is designed for general readers as well as those who work with words. The examples were drawn from the popular press, broadcasting, books, and a variety of other sources, mostly in the latter eighties and the nineties. Each entry devoted to a specific word or phrase contains one or more of those quotations. The troublesome forms are contrasted with the proper forms (which are emphasized by italics) and definitions are given. Entries on general topics are presented too; they deal with matters of grammar, punctuation, style, and so on. A list of them, with further description of the two types of entry, appears under “General Topics,” following this introduction. With few exceptions, the examples have determined the choices of word entries. Thus the book in part amounts to an informal survey of contemporary problems in English usage. Both perennial problems and new ones come up. Of the misuses discouraged by earlier books on English usage, some persist; others have not turned up, but, as though to take their place, new offenses against the language have emerged. Here are some hints for finding your way around the volume: • Main entries, headed in boldface, are arranged alphabetically, letter by letter. • Many entries are divided into sections, which are numbered and titled. The sections of an entry are arranged alphabetically, and their titles are listed at the beginning, after the main title. Some sections contain subsections, distinguished by letters and titles. • There are numerous crossreferences, some standing alone and others within entries. For instance, in the C’s under Comma it says See Punctuation, 3, referring the reader to the entry. Many entries refer to related entries. Alphabetical order is used in listing any series of crossreferences and various other series. last entry vii viii introduction Viewpoint This work could be viewed as an antidote to laissez-faire lexicography and anything-goes grammar. The doctrine that whatever emerges from people’s lips is the language and that many verbal wrongs make a right is not advocated here. Nor is the cliché of English as “a living language” dragged in to justify bad English. On the contrary, I do not hesitate to distinguish between right and wrong usage when the difference is clear. My inclination is to question deviant forms, challenge innovations to prove themselves, and resist senseless fads. (See also the final section of this introduction.) I thereby risk being labeled a “purist” by some critics—as though impurity were desirable. Perhaps in a long-range, philosophical sense there is no verbal right and wrong. But that view does not help you and me in choosing our words and putting together our sentences clearly and properly according to the educated norms of society. Those holding the permissive views follow most of the norms themselves. They do not say or write, “Them guys hasn’t came,” or “I ain’t did nothin nohow,” although some people are apt to do so. For the most part, the laws of grammar have not been repealed. Not that one should be pedantic either. The book does not flatly condemn split infinitives, prepositions at the end of sentences, conjunctions at the beginning, sentence fragments, or phrases like “It’s me.” But it does value precision over fashion, logic over illogic, and grammatical correctness over “political correctness.” (In my view, those who mutilate our language for political motives do wrong.) At times the difference between correct and incorrect usage is hazy. English has an abundance of words,* more than any other language, and multiple ways to express almost any idea. Our language is so complex that nobody ever learns it all and that even its leading authorities occasionally stumble. They disagree and one finds fault with another. Their differences concern both specific points and standards of strictness or looseness in the use of words and grammar. Some loose uses of words or phrases and some slang that may pass harmlessly in informal conversation are inappropriate when transferred to serious writing or even serious speech. This book will help the reader to make sound choices. Examples Samples of sentences that clearly fall into the wrong category follow. The first few are (alternately) by professionals of broadcasting and journalism. A correction follows each quotation. (Each comes up in the main text.) “There were roofs completely tore up.” Torn up. “I like to serve it with croutons . . . that is flavored with olive oil.” Are flavored. “Police said ——— and ——— built the bombs theirselves.” Themselves. “It would be more racism showing it’s ugly head again.” Its. “There is a way to empower your *The Oxford English Dictionary, seeking to record all English words, says it covers more than 500,000 words and phrases in its twenty volumes. The Guinness Book of World Records places the count at more than 600,000 words plus 400,000 technical terms, a total exceeding a million. It numbers the Shakespearean vocabulary at 33,000 words and expresses doubt that any person uses more than 60,000. introduction children and make them far more better . . . students.” Delete “more.” “Women have smaller brains then men.” Than. “The . . . campaign has got to break into the double digits to be respectful.” Respectable. (Headline:) “Be Happy She Prys.” Pries. Additional slip-ups, by people in other fields, include these: (Advertising:) “I always wanted to loose weight.” Lose. (Book publishing:) “Allow someone else to proofread [edit?] it . . . who will not be affraid to be biased in their opinion.” Afraid to be unbiased in his opinion. (Diplomacy:) “It is quite clear that the crisis has reached a critical point.” Better: the dispute or the situation. (Education:) “Me and my kids live in a dormitory.” I and. (Law:) “No one is free to flaunt the tax laws.” Flout. (Medicine:) “We’re obligated to do that biopsy irregardless of the physical findings.” Regardless. (Psychology:) “Their child don’t look so good.” Doesn’t look. The book debunks some widespread misbeliefs. If we do not fully understand ix the meanings of certain words or if we accept some clichés on their faces, we may believe that fury rages in the “eye” of a storm; a “fraction” is a small part; the character “Frankenstein” was a monster; to “impeach” an official is to oust him from office; a jury can find a defendant “innocent”; pencils contain the metal “lead”; a “misdemeanor” is not a crime; prostitution is the “oldest profession”; an exception “proves” a rule; the Constitution guarantees “the pursuit of happiness”; and so on. The criticism of any extract does not negate the overall merit of the work that is quoted.* Clarity Clarity is a leading theme of this book. More than 100 entries deal with the problem of ambiguity (noun): the state of being ambiguous (adjective), able to be interpreted in two or more different ways. Consider this sentence: “When P—— was hired by H——, he had a criminal record.” Which one is “he”? (That example is from Pronouns, 1. Consult also the cross-reference Ambiguity and the next section of this introduction, Wounded Words. General examples of fuzzy prose appear in Verbosity and other entries.) Clear expression requires clear think- *Of 2,000-odd examples of misusage or questionable usage, almost half originated with newspapers, news agencies, or magazines; about a fifth each with broadcasters and books; and a tenth with people in many other fields or miscellaneous sources, described in the text. A few appeared in other reference works. The single most frequent source of examples was The New York Times (usually the national edition), which occasionally is quoted here approvingly too. Newspapers distributed in the San Francisco Bay area and TV and radio broadcasts heard there were significant sources. Dozens of other newspapers, from most regions of the country, yielded examples too. So did 120 books, mostly nonfiction. Some correct or incorrect examples, not counted above, were composed where fitting. The sources of the quotations are not usually identified by name. Space did not permit the publication of a list of such sources (although it had been contemplated). But a variety of reference works consulted as sources of information are listed in the back of the book. x introduction ing. It helps also to be versed in the distinctions among words and in the elements of grammar, including tense, number, mood, parts of speech, sentence structure, and punctuation. Even so, clarity may not survive hastiness, inability to express ideas simply, intentional hedging, lack of facts, language that is too pompous or too slangy, obscurity of ideas or terms, overloading of sentences, overlooking of double meanings, stinginess in using words or punctuation, too little thought, or too much abstraction and generality without concrete examples. Then, too, muddiness and confusion can overcome our best efforts. Writers on the English language often compare it with other languages and glory in its complexity, variety, and subtlety. Yet the language is so complex, with varieties of expression so vast, subtleties so fine, and such a proliferation of word meanings, that it can trap any of us at some time or other. Unqualified praise helps no one. Let us be aware of the difficulties and try to overcome them. Greater efforts to write and speak clearly, accurately, and sensibly would mean more understanding, something that society needs. Wounded Words One of the problems is that English is being deprived of the benefit of many distinctive words as looser meanings develop. The addition of the new meanings renders some of the words ambiguous. I call them wounded words. Examples of those words and their strict meanings follow; loose meanings are in parentheses. Which meaning a writer or speaker has intended is not always plain from the context. A fabulous story is one that is characteristic of a fable (or a good story). An impact is a violent contact (or an effect). A legendary figure is mythical (or famous). One who is masterful is dictatorial (or skillful). To scan a document is to examine it carefully and systematically (or quickly and superficially). If a scene is a shambles, it shows evidence of bloodshed (or disorder). If an incident transpired this year, this year is when it became known (or happened). When an ultimatum is given, a threat of war is issued (or a demand is made). That which is viable is able to live (or feasible).* Many loose or questionable uses are widespread. Does that mean we have to follow suit? Of course not. Save the Language New words continually appear. Those that fill needs are generally desirable. What ought to be questioned or resisted are the watering-down of distinctive words that we already have, the creation of ambiguity and fuzziness, the breakdown of grace and grammar, and irrational verbal fads. Change characterizes the history of English; but whereas innovations in the main language used to be tested slowly by time, and street slang usually stayed there, they are now both thrust upon the public almost instantly by the media of mass communication. *Among words in similar condition are these: accost, alibi, anticipate, bemuse, brandish, brutalize, burgeon, careen, classic, cohort, compendium, connive, cool, culminate, decimate, desecrate, destiny, dilemma, disaster, effete, eke, endemic, enormity, erstwhile, exotic, fantastic, formidable, fortuitous, fraction, gay, idyllic, incredible, increment, internecine, jurist, literal, livid, marginal, mean (noun), minimize, neat, obscene, outrageous, paranoid, pristine, quite, sure, travesty, unique, utilize, verbal, virtual, vital, weird, wherefore, willy-nilly. The words emphasized in this section have separate entries. introduction Our language is an invaluable resource, as much a part of our heritage as forests, wildlife, and waters. Yet where are movements for verbal conservation? Who campaigns to save endangered words? When do we ever see demonstrations against linguistic pollution? xi To support the cause of good English, you and I need not join a group, attend rallies, or give money. We can contribute every day by knowing the language, shunning the fads, and watching our words. P.W.L. San Francisco g e n e r a l to p i c s Here is a list of the titles, or headings, of this book’s main topic entries—that is, entries that deal with general topics. They are distinguished from word entries—which discuss how to use the particular words in their titles. (Those entries are not listed.)* Following this list comes a list of cross-reference titles on general topics. Abbreviation Active voice and passive voice Adjectives and adverbs Anachronism BACK(-) prefix and pairs Backward writing BI- and SEMI- prefixes Capitalization CIRCUM- prefix Clause Cliché clash Clichés Collective nouns Comparative and superlative degrees Comparison Complement Confusing pairs Contractions Crimes (various felonies) Dehumanization Division of words Double meaning Double negative Double possessive Ellipsis Expletives FACT- words Gerund Guilt and innocence Hawaii Homophones I and i Infinitive Iran Italic(s) -IZE ending Joining of words Metaphoric contradiction Modifiers Modifying Mood NANO- prefix Nouns Number (grammatical) Numbers Paragraph *The titles in the two categories differ in their use of capital or lower-case letters: • The title of a topic entry, such as Punctuation or Verbs, is printed in lower-case letters, except for an initial capital. (Prefixes and suffixes, in capitals, are a further exception.) • The title of a word entry, such as AFFECT and EFFECT or COMPRISE, is printed in capital letters, except for any incidental word, like and. (In a word entry, the lower-case and indicates a contrast between the main words. A comma—as in BEMUSE, BEMUSED—separates forms or words in the same category.) xiii xiv general topics Participle Personification Plurals and singulars Possessive problems PRE- prefix Prepositions Pronouns Pronouns’ classification Punctuation Quotation problems Range, true and false Reversal of meaning Run-on sentence SELF- prefix Sentence fragment Series errors Spelling Subjunctive Synonymic silliness Tautology Tense Titles Trademarks Twins Verbal unmentionables Verbosity Verbs -WISE ending -Y ending The following list presents cross-reference titles on general topics. They are found in their alphabetical places in the text. (Cross-reference titles on specific words are not listed. Additional cross-references, untitled, may be found within many entries.) Absolute constructions Abstract noun Accuracy and inaccuracy Accusative case Adverbs Agreement in number “A” instead of personal pronoun Ambiguity ANTE- and ANTI- prefixes Antecedent Apophasis Apostrophe Apposition, appositive Articles (parts of speech) Attributive adjective Auxiliary verbs (helping verbs) Bible Brackets Bullet Case of letters Case of pronoun Colon Comma Common nouns Compounds (words) Concrete noun Conditional sentences Conjunctions Contrast Copula or copulative verb (linking verb) Correlative conjunctions Creatures, plural Danglers Dash Dative Declarative sentence Defining clause Digits spelled out Double entendre Double genitive Doubling of letters -EN, -REN plurals Enumerations Exclamation point -F ending Figures Fire Fractions -FUL ending Fused participle Future tense Genitive (possessive) Germanisms Helping verbs (auxiliary verbs) Homographs and homonyms HYPER- and HYPO- prefixes Hyphen general topics -ICS ending IF clauses Imperative Incomplete sentence Indicative Inflected and uninflected forms -ING form of verb Initials INTER- and INTRA- prefixes Interrogative sentence Intransitive and transitive verbs Inversions -ISE ending Juvenile language Law, courts, legal terms Lists -LY ending Measures, quantities Metaphor Misquotation Names of products Names, plural Negatives Nominative case Nondefining clause Nonrestrictive clause Object(ive) complement Object, objective case -O ending Pairs of words Parentheses Passive voice Past tense Per cent, percent Perfect infinitive Perfect tenses Period Person (grammatical) Phrase Positive degree Predicate Predicate adjective Predicate noun (predicate nominative) Prediction Prefix Present tense Preterit, preterite (past tense) Probability Progressive tenses Proper nouns (names) Quantities, measures Question mark Quotation marks Reflexive pronouns Repetition and its avoidance Restrictive clause Scientific writing -SELF, -SELVES endings SEMI- and BI- prefixes Semicolon -S ending Sequence of events Shakespeare Sibilant endings Singulars and plurals Slash Split infinitive Statistics Stealing Subject Subjective case Subject(ive) complement Subject-verb agreement Substantive Suffix Superlative Time Transitive and intransitive verbs Virgule Voice Will (legal) Wit Words that sound alike xv t h e P E N G U I N D I C T I O N A RY o f AMERICAN ENGLISH USAGE AND STYLE  A A and AN. The choice of using a or an before a word depends on the sound of the word. Use a if the next word begins with a consonant: a daisy, a good egg. Use an if the next word begins with a vowel: an ape, an easy victory. The wrong choice showed up in three newspapers. A federal official was quoted (or misquoted) as saying, “We are concerned any time there is a allegation of serious wrongdoing. . . .” In another news story, an investor “filed a $800 million lawsuit.” In a column, a presidential candidate drove “a M-1 tank.” Corrections: It is “an allegation,” because allegation begins with a vowel sound. It is “an $800 million lawsuit,” because eight begins with a vowel sound. (The number phrase would be pronounced as eight-hundred-milliondollar.) And it is “an M-1 tank”: Although m normally is a consonant, the letter as such is pronounced em. A precedes the sound of the y consonant, even if the initial letter is usually a vowel: a European, a ewe, a uniform. The use of an before such a word is not standard. An precedes a word starting with a silent h: an hour, an honorable man. Using an before a pronounced h, in a word whose h was once silent, like historic or humble, is an uncommon practice in the U.S.A. but more common in Britain. It is observed by a few American writers and speakers, such as an anchor woman who said, “NASA today called off an historic space mission.” The foregoing rules assume that one needs a or an (indefinite article) and not the (definite article). A or an goes before a word or phrase denoting a person or thing (noun) but not a specific one. The person or thing is usually singular but sometimes plural: a few good men, a great many people. A or an is properly omitted from some common constructions. One variety contains no followed by an adjective: “no better time” / “no more beneficial discovery” / “no such animal.” Another contains kind, sort, type, species, or the like: “that kind of gem” / “this sort of thing” / “some type of evergreen.” Meaning can hinge on the presence or absence of a or an. “A novelist and poet spoke” suggests one person. For two persons, an extra a is necessary: “A novelist and a poet spoke” (although “both spoke” makes it clearer). “The zoo will acquire an apteryx, or kiwi”—two alternative names for the same creature. But “The zoo will acquire a koala or a wombat”—one or the other. In writing certain phrases that contain a, particularly a lot and a hold, some people erroneously affix the a to the noun. A while may be properly written as one word sometimes, but not al- a and an 1 2 abbreviation ways. See A WHILE and AWHILE; HOLD; LOT. See also THE. Abbreviation. 1. Code letters. 2. Three forms. 1. Code letters A newspaper article uses the initials “APS” eleven times but never says what they stand for. In the same issue, another article mentions “WIPP” twice without explaining it. Another newspaper mentions “North Carolina A&T State University” three times in an article, never informing the readers (mostly nonCarolinians) what “A&T” stands for. A piece by a news agency cites a “DOE study done by Aerospace Corp. of Los Angeles.” The context indicates that the research did not involve female deer. But the uninitiated reader has no way to relate those three letters to “Energy Department,” which is mentioned several paragraphs before and after “DOE.” Unless initials are as widely known as U.S., C.O.D., M.D., and the letters of the broadcasting networks, the full name or phrase should be used at first. If the initials will be used thereafter, the full name may be linked to them in this way: “Albuquerque Public Schools (APS)” or “Department of Energy (DOE).” Often initials are unnecessary. In subsequent references it may be clearer to refer, for example, to the schools or the department. Better yet, repeat the full name, if it is not too long. Even when initials are explained at the start, they can challenge one’s memory if there are too many of them. A book on international law contains statements like this: “. . . The remaining 40 NNNS parties to the NPT had still not . . . [concluded] a safeguards agreement with the IAEA.” One chapter uses such forms some 300 times. A reader needing a reminder has to go back and hunt for it. In telling of the bags O. J. Simpson took to “LAX,” was a television reporter lax in assuming that everyone knew the airline industry’s code for the Los Angeles airport? San Francisco newscasters continually spell out “SFO,” never identifying it as their airport’s code. It has at least eighteen other meanings. One of those newscasters said on the radio, “There will be no water rationing this year for East Bay MUD [pronounced “mud”] customers.” Some listeners may have heard of the East Bay Municipal Utility District. Others may wonder who would want to buy mud. 2. Three forms Technically, three main condensed forms may be distinguished, though all three are often lumped under the word abbreviation. An abbreviation, strictly speaking, is a short version of a word or phrase in writing, such as Rep. for Representative and etc. for et cetera. An acronym is pronounced like a word; it is formed from initials or parts of a name or phrase. Examples are AIDS from acquired immune deficiency syndrome and LORAN from long-range (aid to navigation). An initialism is composed of initials that are spelled out in pronunciation, letter by letter, such as FBI for Federal Bureau of Investigation and cc for cubic centimeter(s). See also Punctuation, 8; and Titles, 2. ABDOMEN. See STOMACH. ABIDE and ABIDE BY. To abide something usually means to endure it, to tolerate it. “Can you abide such hot weather?” It can also mean to await it. A columnist thinks that the press has treated a certain local politician too kindly. The politician “has succeeded in making himself the personification of the city.” An attack on him therefore be- accused, alleged, reported, suspected 3 comes an attack on the city “and no one can abide by that.” It should be “and no one can abide that.” Omit “by.” To abide by something is to comply with it, conform to it. “I abide by the law.” / “I’m a law-abiding citizen.” The past tense and past participle of abide is abode or abided. Is the reporter so afraid of sticking her neck out that she requires the weight of authority behind an announcement of a holiday? ABOUT TO. See NOT ABOUT TO. ACCOST. To accost is to approach Absolute constructions. See Modifiers, 1D. Abstract noun. See Nouns, 1. ACCEPT confused with EXCEPT. See EXCEPT and EXCEPTING; Homophones. ACCORDING TO. According to is a common phrase that is used in sentences like these: “A promising discovery in the fight against flat feet was made this week, according to a local professor.” / “According to the sect, the world will come to an end next Thursday.” It tells us that the statement is made on the authority of the one quoted. It implies that the writer does not vouch for the veracity or sense of the statement or may even question it. Thus it should be used with caution. News people sometimes append “according to” to what should be matters of objective fact. For example: According to the administration, Contra aid will run out September 30. Will it or won’t it? If the writer has any doubt, he should find out for himself. Some statements are too obvious to need any attribution, let alone the “according to” form. This item is no scoop: Many Jewish students at SF State will not be attending class today due to Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, according to A—— S——, Di- rector of Programs of the Northern California Hillel Council. [See also DUE TO.] and speak to someone first. A panhandler and a person seeking directions accost people on the street. Some have the mistaken idea that it means to assault or attack. A news report on national television said that several friends were “accosted by a white mob.” Probably attacked should have been used instead of “accosted.” A city official, speaking about assaults on parking officers, referred to “their chances of being accosted.” He meant assaulted. Accuracy and inaccuracy. See Numbers, 5; Quotation problems, 1; Reversal of meaning. Accusative case. See Pronouns, 10 A. ACCUSED, ALLEGED, REPORTED, SUSPECTED. 1. Accused in the news media. 2. Two adverbs. 1. Accused in the news media “An accused mass murderer finally gets his day in court,” it was announced on local television. This would have been a better way to phrase it: “A man accused of mass murder finally. . . .” What the newscaster essentially called him was a mass murderer who had been accused. Such misuse of the participle accused has become fairly common among news people. They assume that it protects them from any libel suit. When they describe someone as an “accused thief,” 4 acronym for example, they mean he is not definitely a thief, just one who has been accused of being a thief. But to call someone an “accused thief” is still calling him a thief. “Accused” modifies “thief”; it does not mollify it. Similarly an “accused doctor” or “accused lawyer” is a doctor or lawyer who has been accused. The misuse of alleged, as a synonym for “accused” in its objectionable sense, has long been established among journalists. An example: “Dazed and bleeding from a vicious assault . . . Laurie M—— pleaded with alleged attacker David A—— to take her to a hospital. . . .” Alleged normally means declared as such without proof. But the sentence essentially says the accused man committed the crime; “alleged” scarcely mitigates the nastiness joined to his name. A fairer phrasing would be: “. . . Laurie . . . pleaded with her attacker—alleged to be David . . . —to take. . . .” Suspected is apt to be treated in the manner of the other two questionable words. The comments about accused hold for suspected. A “suspected assailant” is an assailant who is suspected, according to the literal meaning of the words. In stating that “serious damage has been done to national security by convicted or suspected spies,” two newspaper by-liners show that they regard “suspected spies” the same as convicted spies. (See Guilt and innocence, 3.) The word reported often is used in a similar grammatical way. Although usually applied to incidents, rather than people, its presence can raise questions. For instance, when a news story mentions a “reported crime,” is it referring to a crime that has been reported to the police, or is it just using “reported” in its vague, journalistic sense, as a supposed hedge against legal action, or as if to say: “We’re not sure that it happened, but we were told that it did”? Writers and editors should be aware that none of the four words in question will protect them against suit. It is not enough to say “There really was an accusation”—or “allegation” or “report” or “suspicion”—if its substance was false or erroneous. As a rule of thumb, avoid charged prose if there is no charged defendant. 2. Two adverbs Allegedly and reportedly (a later arrival) occupy the domain of the news media, and there they should be confined. They are used in this way: “The accused man allegedly [or “reportedly”] struck the victim.” In grammatical terms, the selected adverb modifies the verb, struck. Someone ought to explain in what manner the accused person struck the other when he “allegedly” struck him or “reportedly” struck him. During our Persian Gulf war, a banner in an American newspaper cried: “Hussein reportedly asks for asylum in Algeria” (referring to President Hussein of Iraq). The “report” came from a French newspaper, which cited no source. No more was heard of it. We need not ponder the unimaginable act of “reportedly asking”; a larger question is involved: When an editor finds a story so shaky that he must qualify its headline with “reportedly,” should he not think twice before running it at all? ACRONYM. See Abbreviation. ACROPHOBIA. See HOMOPHOBIA. “ACROSS FROM.” These two sentences, which appeared in newspapers in Texas and New York, raise questions: “The farm is across from the plant.” / “. . . This man’s brother was across from the President’s house with a gun. . . .” Across what? The tracks? The street? The park? Use of the slang term “across active voice and passive voice from” requires that the topographical entity in the way be obvious. 5 If you’re in the market for highquality furniture, this sale should not be missed. tions:” Five numbered paragraphs follow. Such a format lends itself to the passive. Too much passive can get dull. Scientists load their writing with it. If you read research papers, you can get the idea that scientists never do anything. Somehow everything is done, as though by magic. Take the following description of an experiment, from a biology annual (emphasis added). Notice how weak the sentence gets after the comma. It starts out in the active voice and finishes in the passive voice. It would have more punch if it followed through actively: “. . . don’t miss this sale” or “you should not miss this sale.” The inconsistency as much as the relative weakness of the passive voice impaired the announcement. Voice is the form of a verb that indicates whether the subject of a sentence performs the action or receives the action. The two sentences that follow express the same thought in two ways. Stock suspension of normal erythrocytes were prepared from freshly heparinized rat blood. . . . The plasma and buffy coat were removed, and the cells were washed. . . . The supernatant of the first washing was discarded, and the cells were resuspended and diluted. . . . NACl dissolved in 10 ml sodium buffer, at the appropriate Ph, was chosen for the preparation of the hypotonic solutions. . . . The required standard 50% hemolysis was reached by adjustment of the NACl concentration. Active voice and passive voice. An announcer broadcast the following sentence, and in a sense he spoke with two voices. • “Matilda found a chinchilla” is in the active voice. The subject (Matilda) performed the action. • “A chinchilla was found by Matilda” is in the passive voice. The subject (a chinchilla) received the action. The active voice is more direct and usually more forceful than the passive. Nevertheless, the passive has a place. You may want to emphasize the doing and play down the doer. The identity of the doer may be obvious, unknown, insignificant, or indefinite: “Letterpress printing is not used much now.” / “Flags are being lowered to half-mast.” / “The package was delivered yesterday.” / “It just isn’t done.” A book on world history says, “The Neolithic stage in culture is characterized by the following important innova- The combining of voices can produce a sentence that is not just weak but also ungrammatical. It happens when a verb in the active part does not agree with anything in the passive part. Such a sentence appears in the foreword of a generally admirable dictionary. The sentence preceding it says the editors do not give merely the essence of a definition. Instead, the reader is given the necessary additional connotative information, even if it means devoting a good deal of space to doing so. . . . The sentence is passive up to the second comma; thereafter it is active. That fact alone does not spoil it. The trouble is that the words “doing so” do not refer to anything. If, for instance, the sentence began (in an active voice) “Instead, we insist on giving the reader the 6 ad and add necessary . . . ,” doing so would fit. Another way to correct the sentence is to make the second part “. . . even if it requires a good deal of space.” Double passives can be awkward. This is acceptable (though not an illustration of energetic reporting): “The suspect was said to be wanted in three states.” This, however, is too clumsy for publication: “The peak was again attempted to be climbed.” Better: “Another attempt was made to climb the peak.” A passive believed, reported, said, or thought will tolerably combine with another passive. Many others will not: attempted, begun, forgotten, proposed, sought, and so on. AD and ADD. See Homophones. ADAPT and ADOPT. To adapt something is to adjust or change it so as to make it suitable for one’s purpose. Hollywood writers often adapt novels to the screen. To adopt something is to accept or take it as one’s own—unchanged—as one would adopt a child. An anchor man who referred to “the platform that the Democrats adapted in Atlanta” chose the wrong word. It should have been adopted. By the way, adopted children have adoptive parents. Adjectives and adverbs. 1. In general. 2. Placement. 1. In general An adjective describes someone or something. (In terms of grammar, it modifies a noun or pronoun.) Examples of adjectives are green, wet, and European. An adverb describes an action, or it further describes a description. (It modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.) Examples of adverbs are thinly, probably, and increasingly. It seems as though every piece of writing about improving one’s English has to contain some mistake. (The book you are now reading is probably no exception.) So a newspaper article on legal English indirectly quotes a judge “who advises lawyers to write like good newspaper reporters: simple and straightforward.” And ungrammatically? You may write a simple piece or write a piece that is simple—this word is an adjective only. But you write simply— this word is an adverb only. Unlike simple and simply, straightforward may be used either as an adjective or as an adverb. Among other words that serve both as adjectives and as adverbs are down, far, fast, first, little, much, same, straight, very, and well. They have one form only. (They are sometimes called flat adverbs.) The following are more examples of words that double as adjectives; used as an adverb, each has an alternative form ending in -ly, the form of most adverbs: bright, cheap, loud, quick, sharp, slow, strong, sure, and tight. Some writers consider the -ly form—brightly, cheaply, etc.—more formal or fancy. In some cases, adding -ly changes the meaning. Each of these is a combined adjective and adverb: hard, high, late. And each has an -ly form with a different meaning: hardly, highly, lately. Hyphens should never be attached to adverbs ending in -ly: “a strongly worded letter” / “the rapidly moving train.” (Some adjectives end in -ly and are subject to hyphenating when attached to participles. See Punctuation, 4D.) Sometimes an adjective is erroneously used for an adverb and vice versa. An attorney general said, “We take it very serious”—instead of seriously, the adverb. A psychologist said, “You’ve done all of those things that sound wonderfully”— instead of wonderful, the adjective. (Sound is a linking verb. See Verbs, 1F.)
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