Wednesday, August 23, 2006

This 'Last'

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- Almost 20 percent of the female cadets at The Citadel last spring reported being sexually assaulted since enrolling at the state military college, according to results of a survey released by the school Wednesday.

Last spring. It's easy to read past that, but what on earth does it mean? It's now summer. Immediately before summer began, it was spring. The last spring to have occurred was the spring of 2006, but why, why, why would somebody write it that way? If it's Wednesday, do you refer to the previous day as "last Tuesday"?

So maybe the writer meant "spring of last year," as in the spring of 2005? That somehow seems less likely, and indeed the Reuters story on the survey says it was conducted "in the spring."

I would also accept "this spring" in a reference to the spring of the current year. And maybe even "last fall" if it's January or February of 2006 and you want to make it absolutely clear that you're referring to autumn of 2005 and not autumn of 2006. But a midweek yesterday is not last Tuesday, and a spring isn't "last" until the year is over.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I'm One of the Only Prescriptivists Who . . .

A colleague wrote a caption saying that an object was one of the only things recovered from a New Orleanian's house after Katrina hit, and another colleague gently pointed out that "one of the only" makes no sense. It should, he said, be "one of the few."

I disagree. It would be one thing if only always referred to one and only one thing, but that's not the case. Webster's New World defines only as "alone of its or their kind," and nobody objects to "only two people . . ." and the like. If "only two people" have done something, wouldn't one of those people be one of only two people, or one of the only people, who have done it?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Well, I Should Certainly Hope So

Italics, mine. Missing detail, theirs. (Warning: You may require oxygen after reading these examples.)

Calgary Herald:
Diack's proposal came a few days after the news that Olympic and world 100-metre champion Justin Gatlin had tested positive for testosterone, dealing a serious blow to the showcase Olympic sport.

London Daily Telegraph:
Gatlin, the world and Olympic champion who tested positive for testosterone in April, is expected to have his case heard by the US Anti-Doping Agency today and should expect a life ban if he is found guilty of a doping offence.

Agence France-Presse:
Last week, joint world 100m record holder Justin Gatlin tested positive for testosterone and is currently facing the prospect of a life ban.

Washington Post:
In May, American sprinter Justin Gatlin equaled the world record in the 100 meters; last month, he revealed he had tested positive for testosterone.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Coffee? Tea? Retronym?

No, really, it's real!

Dueling retronyms today: Land O Lakes offers Traditional Half and Half, while Harris Teeter sells Original Half and Half. Both, of course, mean half-and-half, as opposed to something they call fat-free half-and-half.

As the helpful folks at Harris Teeter point out, half-and-half is made with real milk and cream. To be precise, half-and-half is milk and cream. Half of each. What, then, would fat-free half-and-half be? It would be the same thing as fat-free heavy cream or fat-free light cream or fat-free whole milk or fat-free "2 percent" or "1 percent" milk: It would be skim milk. Of course, the dairies aren't selling skim milk and calling it fat-free half-and-half. They're selling a chemical potion formulated to look and taste like half-and-half, but with a fat content low enough to meet the federal guidelines for a "fat-free" label.

Another blogger explored the ingredients list on a carton of "fat-free half-and-half." I'll leave Eric Schlosser and company to address those horrors (and the fact that even the "traditional" and "original" products include disodium phosphate, sodium citrate and sometimes carrageenan). Meanwhile, I'll suggest that Land O Lakes and Harris Teeter and the others offer me a choice between half-and-half that requires no elaboration and "artificially flavored coffee creamer."