Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Sexism (2).

Sexism (2).

Today: The Pronoun Problem.

English has a number of common-sex general words, such as “person,” “anyone,” “everyone,” and “no one,” but no common-sex singular personal pronoun, just “he,” “she,” and “it.” The traditional approach has been to use the masculine “he” and “him” to cover all people. That this practice has come under increasing attack has caused the most difficult problem in the realm of sexist language.

As H.W. Fowler noted (with contributions from Ernest Gowers): “There are three ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Sexism (1).

Sexism (1).

Today: Generally.

If you start with the pragmatic premise that you want to avoid misleading or distracting your readers, then you’ll almost certainly conclude that it’s best to avoid sexist language. Regardless of your political persuasion, that conclusion seems inevitable — if you’re a pragmatist.

But does avoiding sexism mean resorting to awkward devices such as *"he/she"? Surely not, because that too would distract many readers. What you should strive for instead — if you want readers to focus ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: sewn up.

sewn up.

“Sewn up” (= [of an outcome] made certain) is sometimes mistakenly written *"sown up," as if the metaphor had to do with sowing (as opposed to sewing) — e.g.:

o “It seems that the powerful had the game sown [read ‘sewn’] up from the start.” James Gill, “Justice for Those Who Can Pay,” Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 26 Feb. 1999, at B7.

o “Gallegos aide and LaPuente Mayor Edward Chavez . . . has sown [read ‘sewn’] up endorsements from his ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: seven seas.

seven seas.

This figurative term has been used since antiquity, but its meaning has varied among cultures.

To the ancient Romans, the “seven seas” were a group of saltwater lagoons near what is now Venice. At about the same time, the Persians called the streams that flowed into the Oxus River the “seven seas.” Much later in Europe, the “seven seas” were the North, the White, the Baltic, the Aegean, the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, and the Black Seas.

In modern usage, the ...

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

Miscellaneous Entries.

*self-confessed is a common redundancy — e.g.: “A court that frees a self-confessed [read ‘confessed’] murderer on a technicality would seem to bear responsibility for any harm that criminal may do in the future.” Mario Pei, Words in Sheep’s Clothing 86 (1969). Language-Change Index — *"Self-confessed" for “confessed”: Stage 3.

selvage (= a specially made edge of fabric or paper) is the standard spelling. It outnumbers the variant spelling *"selvedge" by a 50-to-1 ratio.

semestral is the preferred adjective corresponding ...

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

Miscellaneous Entries.

secretive; secretory. The first is the adjective (“inclined to secrecy, uncommunicative”) corresponding to one sense “secrete” (“to hide”; the second is the adjective (“having the function of secreting”) corresponding another sense of “secrete” (“to exude from glands”). “Secretive” is best pronounced /SEE-kruh-tiv/ for sense 1 and /si-KREE-tiv/ for sense 2. “Secretory” is pronounced /si-KREE-tuh-ree/.

seise; seize. The two identically pronounced words are related, but they have undergone differentiation. “Seize” is principally a nontechnical lay word meaning: (1) “to take ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Sesquipedality (3).

Sesquipedality (3).

Today: A Synthesis of Style.

The problem remains: to what extent is it advisable to use big words?

The Fowler brothers generally thought it inadvisable: “Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.” H.W. Fowler & F.G. Fowler, The King’s English 14 (3d ed. 1931). But “prefer” raises an important question: how strong is this preference to be? Sheridan Baker elaborates the idea more fully, and quite sensibly:

“‘What we need is a mixed diction,’ said Aristotle, and his point remains ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Sesquipedality (2).

Sesquipedality (2).

Today: Traditional Approaches.

Hard words have a legitimate literary tradition. English has inherited two strains of literary expression, both deriving ultimately from ancient Greek rhetoric. On the one hand is the plain style now in vogue, characterized by unadorned vocabulary, directness, unelaborate syntax, and earthiness. (This style is known to scholars as Atticism.) On the other hand we have the grand style, which exemplifies floridity, allusiveness, formal and sometimes abstruse diction, and rhetorical ornament. Proponents of this verbally ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Sesquipedality (1).

Sesquipedality (1).

Today: Generally.

Sesquipedality is the use of big words, literally those that are “a foot and a half” long. Although the English language has an unmatched wealth of words available for its users, most of its resources go untapped. The Oxford English Dictionary contains more than 600,000 words, yet even highly educated people have only about 10% of that number in their working vocabulary.

This discrepancy gives rise to a tension between two ideals. On the one hand, vocabulary-builders ...

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

Miscellaneous Entries.

Seattleite; *Seattlite. The first is the standard spelling; the second is a variant form.

seaworthy. One word — not hyphenated.

second-guess, v.t. Hyphenated thus.

secretariat (= the position or quarters of a secretary) is the standard spelling. *"Secretariate" is a variant.

secretary is pronounced /SEK-ruh-tair-ee/ — not /SEK-uh-tair-ee/.

secrete = (1) to hide; or (2) to exude or ooze through pores or glands; to produce by secretion. Although “secrete away” is technically redundant, it avoids the possible miscue from the conflicting senses {then, ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: series.

series.

Though serving as a plural when the need arises, “series” is ordinarily a singular {the series is quite popular}. But it is also a noun of multitude, so that phrases such as “a series of things” take a plural verb — e.g.:

o “A series of motivational meetings were held in the early evening.” Joanna Schmitcke, “Lifetime of Wrestling Pays Off,” Sacramento Bee, 2 Feb. 1997, at N6.

o “Even in Japan there have been a series of failures.” Neil Bennett, ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: seraph.

seraph.

“Seraph” (/SER-uhf/), referring to a six-winged angel, has two plurals: a Hebrew one (“seraphim”) and a native English one (“seraphs”). “Seraphim” is about six times as common in print, and it sometimes even appears alongside the anglicized plural for “cherub” — e.g.: “Her ‘Angels’ is a similar exposition, where the angelic hierarchy (angels, seraphim, and cherubs) is displayed in the bright upper part of the painting.” Sylvia Krissoff, “Show Covers Opposite Ends of Spectrum,” Grand Rapids Press, 14 Dec. ...

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