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July 26, 2006

Strunk and Light Addendum

Yes, people continue to offend me with their bad English usage. Bad people! Bad!

to proffer: there is absolutely no reason to use "proffer" instead of "offer", unless it is to drive me batshit.

priveledge or priviledge: both of which spellings are wrong. It is "privilege", without a "d". And let me just say here that it's pretty ironic that this is one of the misspellings that best announces someone's class and educational privilege.

thusly: "thusly" was originally coined as a humorous term, but I'm starting to see it used seriously a lot. "Thus" is already an adverb, so adding an "ly" to the end of it is unnecessary and incorrect.

prolly: for "probably". I don't actually object to this, personally. In fact, I've never seen it outside emails and blog entries. But I'm gonna take Wendy's word for it.

equally as: as in My coffee is equally as strong as your coffee. "Equally" and "as" serve the same function in this sentence. They are both adverbs, modifying the adjective "strong". They are both comparative. Listen:

My coffee is equally strong as your coffee.
My coffee is as strong as your coffee.

The first sentence is correct, but awkward, because we are used to using the "as blank as" construction when comparing. If you want to emphasize the "equally", it's best to reconstruct the sentence thus: My coffee and your coffee are equally strong. Can you tell what I'm drinking as I write this?

"blank and blank" constructions: like "above and beyond" the call of duty, or "each and every" one of you. People like these constructions because "blank and blank" is euphonious and rhythmic. Too often a particular euphony, a fashionable euphony, takes over the airwaves and everyone loses sight (or sound) of the music of simplicity. Choose one word and go with it. This belongs to the category of things needlessly superlativized. Just trust the single word to mean what it means without having to call a crowd of words in for backup.

curling up: to read. Why do we only ever "curl up" to read? Why do we always "curl up" to read? Is there no other possible reading posture?

self-identity: um ... identity is self. "Identity" refers to self. My identity means my idea of myself. It does not mean my idea of anyone else. "Self-identity" is not just redundant, it's dumb. Use the one or the other.

to hail: for anything other than "to greet" or "to get someone's attention". You do not "hail from" somewhere. You may be from somewhere, but you don't stand there and yell out greetings to people (do you?) And critics don't "hail" books. Books can't hear. This is something of a dead metaphor, trying to create the image of an audience of critics loudly acclaiming a book with greeting-like noises. But they're not really doing it, you know, and it's become a meaningless cliché. Say goodbye to it.

dilemma: does not mean "problem". It's from Greek di (two) lemma (proposition), which means that you are faced with a choice between two propositions. Do I marry Vin Diesel for love and money, or do I save the world by becoming Dubya's mistress and exerting my powers of mind control on him? It's a dilemma! "How to stop drinking" is not a dilemma, it's a problem. "How to get my teenager to stop drinking" is not a dilemma, it's a problem. "I only have enough money to send me or my teenager to rehab" is a dilemma. Got it?


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That's some dilemma, grrl!

Can we add "doff" to the list? Just take the damn hat off already!

"doff" it is. actually, why don't i just add that to the "don" entry, since it's essentially the same thing?

while i know that YANAL, seelight, you may be interested in knowing that proffer actually has a specific legal meaning, as found on p. 1246 of the latest unabridged Black's Law Dictionary: "to offer or tender (something, esp. evidence) for immediate acceptance." i would proffer that the focus on immediate acceptance distinguishes "proffer" from "offer," that is, if we were in negotations about such things. since we're not, i won't.

so here's my $0.02: don't use proffer if YANAL!!

what's YANAL?

YANAL = You Are Not A Lawyer, I think. Usually served it its other form, IANAL (which looks even dirtier to me, I'm sorry to say): I Am Not A Lawyer (so don't sue me if you find out I'm wrong and you lose your house and business and everything on the basis of my lousy advice).

marrije is right, claire . . . IANAL, YANAL, and from what i can gather, SANAL, either.

you're not, are you marrije?

OTOH, IAALL . . . . . . which is why i felt the need to proffer my take on "proffer."

Hi, Claire -- just happened across this old entry of yours in the Strunk and Light series. I know it's kind of silly to nitpick about something you posted four years ago, but I'm in the mood to explore word history, so I hope you won't mind my commenting.

I'm with you on several of these bad-usage points, but wanted to offer respectful disagreement on "hail."

"hail from" has meant "come from" since the 1870s or earlier; one 1877 book claims that this "hail" derives from Gaelic "seol," meaning "to sail." I'm dubious about that claim, but regardless, the phrase has been around for a long time with that meaning, so I wouldn't say it's incorrect usage. Or were you just saying this has become a cliche and should thus be avoided?

As for critics "hailing" a book, I think your mention of acclaim is more directly relevant than the idea of greeting; in phrases and titles like "Hail, Caesar!" or "hail to the chief" or "Hail the Conquering Hero" or "All Hail the Queen" or "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name," I think the idea is more acclamation than greeting per se; my dictionary lists "acclaim" as a synonym for that meaning of "hail." That doesn't keep the phrase from being a cliche, which was your main objection to it; still, it seems to me to be a pretty reasonable metaphor (albeit most likely an exaggeration) to talk about critics acclaiming a particularly wonderful book as if it were a leader, a hero, or a ruler.

Thanks, Jed. I haven't thought about this for a while! ;)

i know this post is like 10 years old, but...how about putting "just" in place of "equally" in that one sentence:

my coffee is just as strong as your coffee.

just is also an adverb, like equally or as, and in this sentence it even carries the same meaning as equally, but the sentence def cannot be written:

my coffee is just strong as your coffee.


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