Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: seldom.

seldom.

Because this word is an adverb as well as an adjective, the nonword *"seldomly" is never (not merely seldom) needed — e.g.:

o “Hogan was a man so focused that he seldomly [read ‘seldom’] noticed what was going on around him.” Jeff Babineau, “Hogan’s Legacy,” Orlando Sentinel, 3 Aug. 1997, at C4.

o “There, one obviously bored soldier checks identifications, and seldomly [read ‘seldom’] exercises his prerogative of looking inside bags and purses.” “Deadly Biowarfare Collection Amid Disrepair in Russian Lab,” ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Language-Change Index.

Language-Change Index.

The third edition of Garner’s Modern American Usage reflects several new practices. Invariably inferior forms, for example, are now marked with asterisks preceding the term or phrase, a marking common in linguistics.

The most interesting new feature is the Language-Change Index. Its purpose is to measure how widely accepted various linguistic innovations have become. Such a measuring system for usage guides was first proposed by Louis G. Heller and James Macris in 1967. They noted that “usage specialists can ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Miscellaneous Entries.

Miscellaneous Entries.

salvage, n. ; selvage. “Salvage” = (1) the rescue of property (as at sea or from fire); or (2) the discovery and extraction of something valuable or useful from rubbish. “Selvage” = the edging of cloth.

sanguine, in the sense “optimistic, confident,” is sometimes confounded with “sanguinary” (= [1] involving bloodshed; or [2] bloodthirsty) — e.g.: “Unfortunately, not all the members of the administration’s environmental team appear to share the sanguinary [read ‘sanguine’] views of Hunt and Howes on ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: segue.

segue.

“Segue” is a noun (meaning “a seamless transition”) and an intransitive verb (meaning “to transition smoothly”). (It’s also a transitive verb, but only in music.) The misspelling *"segway" (except in the trademarked company name) is particularly embarrassing — e.g.:

o “[Barack Obama] applauded the work of junior Joe Pearson, of Barrington, who works under lead biodiesel research Professor Ihab Farag. It was a good segway [read ‘segue’] to Obama’s own proposal that would reduce the amount of carbon in the ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: see / saw / seen.

see / saw / seen.

So inflected. Using the past tense for the past participle, and vice versa, is typical of dialect. Usually these errors occur only in reported speech — e.g.:

o “‘If I was [read ‘had been’] here on time, I would have saw [read ‘seen’] what happened and the guy or gal who did this would be caught.'” Giovanna Fabiano, “Vehicle Hits, Kills Woman in Raritan,” Courier-News (Bridgewater, N.J.), 7 Sept. 2002, at A2 (quoting Louie Dellatorca).

o “He ...

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LawProse Lessons #81 & #82

Lesson # 81
Does the new Scalia-Garner treatise take a position on the serial comma — that is, the one preceding “and” in the phrase “a, b, and c”?

ANSWER: Yes, in Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts, Justice Scalia and Bryan Garner explain the Punctuation Canon. In the course of that section, they exhort legal drafters to use the serial comma (pp. 165-66). The Punctuation Canon is one of 57 valid canons explained in the ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Scylla and Charybdis, between.

Scylla and Charybdis, between.

As described by Homer, Scylla /SiL-uh/ was a sea monster who had six heads (each with a triple row of teeth) and twelve feet. Though primarily a fish-eater, she was capable of snatching and devouring (in one swoop) six sailors if their ship ventured too near her cave in the Strait of Messina. (In the accounts of later writers, she is rationalized into a rocky promontory.) Toward the opposite shore, not far from Scylla’s lair, was ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: scurfy; scurvy, adj.

scurfy; scurvy, adj.

“Scurfy” means “(of an organism) full of dandruff or similar white flakes occurring as a result of disease or parasites.” E.g.: “Right about now is the time to treat euonymus scale (the scurfy white stuff) on euonymus and pachysandra and other scale insects on mugo pines, lilacs, peach, plum and cherry trees.” Carol Bradford, “Sequence of Garden Events Remains the Same Year In, Year Out,” Post-Standard (Syracuse), 7 Apr. 2002, Garden §, at 26.

“Scurvy” (= contemptible) is ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Scotch, adj. & n.; Scottish, adj.; Scots, adj. & n.

Scotch, adj. & n. ; Scottish, adj. ; Scots, adj. & n.

As adjectives, “Scots” generally applies to people {Scotsman} and Scottish to things {Scottish golf}. But the distinction is far from rigid. Some things, usually those associated with people, have names that use “Scots” instead of “Scottish,” e.g., “Scots law,” “Scots Guards,” “Scots goose,” “Scots pine.” And there are many things with fixed names, such as “Scottish Rite” and “Scottish Rifles.” The noun “Scots” usually refers to the form ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Miscellaneous Entries.

Miscellaneous Entries.

sale. Something “for sale” is simply being offered for a specified price. Something “on sale” is being offered at a discounted price.

salesperson; salesman. To avoid sexism, prefer the former. “Salesperson” seems to be one of the few words in which “-person” isn’t particularly grating.

salesroom; saleroom. The former is standard in American English, the latter in British English.

salience; *saliency. The latter is a needless variant.

saline. Although the better pronunciation was once thought to be /SAY-lIn/, both that pronunciation and ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: scissors.

scissors.

As a term for the cutting instrument, scissors has been treated as a plural since the 14th century, and that is the preferred modern construction {where are the scissors?}. But the phrase “a pair of scissors,” which first appeared in the 15th century, is singular because the noun “pair” controls the verb, not the prepositional phrase “of scissors” {a pair of scissors is in the drawer}.

Since the mid-19th century, “scissors” has occasionally been construed with a singular verb. Although this ...

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LawProse Lessons #79 & #80

Lesson # 79
Why does Bryan Garner recommend deleting shall from all legal instruments?

ANSWER: Several reasons: (1) It is the most frequently litigated word in the English language. (2) Not 1 lawyer in 100 uses it consistently in mandatory senses. (3) In most contracts, it bears three or four meanings — thereby violating the presumption of consistent usage. (4) The bar as a whole cannot be trained to employ the word properly. (5) Experience shows just ...

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