Tuesday, June 29, 2004

A Usage Apologist? Me?

As I argued on my site and the ACES site last year that "10 items or less" is not an error, it crossed my mind that I might be rationalizing a usage error. I don't think I'm guilty of that, but I find the topic of such rationalization interesting. I can think of three biggies in this category:

  • The idea that "I could care less" is not necessarily an erroneous formation of "I couldn't care less," but rather a bit of sly sarcasm ("I could care less, but I don't").

  • The idea that "try and" is not an unsuccessful attempt to say "try to," but rather a stronger version of it ("Don't just try to do it. Do it!").

  • The idea that "let me alone" is the correct way of saying "leave me alone" when the meaning is "stop bothering me" rather than literally "leave me alone." (I realize that this idea has more backing among the recognized authorities than the other two.)

    Thoughts? Other examples?
  • Wednesday, June 23, 2004

    'Homicide Bombers' Revisited

    A reader wrote to me today with compliments but added a note in defense of the term "homicide bombers":
    While "bombers" should generally be enough given that there is usually context, there are organizations that go to great pains to cause damage to buildings and infrastructure without killing or injuring anyone, making "homicide bombers" a valid albeit not-often-necessary distinction.
    I answered:
    My view is that if "homicide bombers" were necessary,
    the term would have been invented long ago -- not just
    recently and just in reaction to one political wing's
    objection to "[something else]-icide bombers."
    And then I wondered:

    Was I historically accurate? Why hadn't I looked this up before?

    So I did. LexisNexis makes it a little harder than it should be, returning hits when a story says something like "homicides and bombings," but I could find no references to homicide bombers or homicide bombings before Sept. 11, 2001.

    Friday, June 18, 2004

    Typo of the Day

    Caught in the slot, in an article about gay marriage:

    "Same-ex unions."

    Wednesday, June 16, 2004

    Dubya Does Vegas?

    Heard in a Golden Nugget elevator, in a piped-in description of the hotel's restaurants: "Exemplerary service."

    Heard on the radio back in Washington, from a law-enforcement spokesman: "The officers made entry to the apartment and made apprehension of the suspect."

    I made switching to another station. And then there's the "suspect." The report was about a guy who held a bunch of kids hostage in his apartment. He may have been "suspected" of other things, but in a report on the man who was holed up for hours, he is simply "the man." We know he's the one.

    The best you're likely to get from a cop or a radio or TV reporter, of course, is "the individual," which is appropriate only when there was some question of whether conjoined twins were involved.

    Tuesday, June 08, 2004

    Free the Peeves

    Can you separate legitimate language gripes from mere pet peeves? Visit Barbara Wallraff's new Web site and find out. There are usage forums, too.

    I passed all the quizzes but one. See if you can guess which one I would have answered "none of the above" to.

    Monday, June 07, 2004

    Brought to You by . . .

    Few issues bring out indignation of the "I'm a journalist, not a flack" variety as much as sponsors' use of the names of sports events and venues as advertising billboards. When I think about trying to draw the line on free advertising, though, the most decisive thing I can say is that I'm glad I'm not in the sports department.

    I have a certain admiration for those who insist on, for instance, Mile High Stadium, but after a few days of civil disobedience I think you have to acknowledge that that isn't really the name of the place anymore. "Invesco Field at Mile High" seems like an idiotic compromise (Mile High isn't a place, is it?), but if you're going to ban Invesco Field, what about the double-fresh flavor of Wrigley Field? As for sporting events, a logical place to draw the line would seem to be the existence of a non-billboard name -- the GMAC Bowl has no other name, while the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl would be simply the Fiesta Bowl. But is that penalizing those sponsors that chose to align themselves with the big pre-existing games?

    I have no good answers, but I will say this: Do the sports impresarios of Florida know what words mean?

    First we had the National Car Rental Center. Yes, Car Rental Center. The place where people go to rent cars. No, it couldn't be the National Car Rental Arena or the National Car Rental Forum or the National Car Rental Coliseum or National Car Rental Gardens.

    That place is now under different sponsorship (and Office Depot was smart enough not to call it the Office Depot Fax Machine Department), but we still have the St. Pete Times Forum. Great name for a feature on the commentary pages, horrible name for an arena. "Center" would have worked just fine there.

    I'm waiting for Carnation Gardens and the Trojan Coliseum.

    Saturday, June 05, 2004

    Much-Mangled Agency Names

    The DEA is the Drug Enforcement Administration (not Agency). The FDA is the Food and (not Federal) Drug Administration.

    The GAO used to be the General Accounting Office, but it was often erroneously called the Government Accounting Office. It recently became the Government Accountability Office.

    Not a government agency, but one that got past me recently: It's the Natural (not National) Resources Defense Council.