Garner's Usage Tip of the Day: skew; skewer.

skew; skewer.

To "skew" is to change direction; to "skew" statistics is to make them misleading, especially by including some factor that is irrelevant to the inquiry. To "skewer" is (1) to impale, or (2) figuratively, to satirize or criticize. As a noun, a "skewer" is (1) a stick or rod that food is impaled on for cooking; or (2) something that skews something, esp. statistics or perception.

"Skewer" is occasionally misused for the verb "skew"— e.g.:

o "The boycotts of Los Angeles ...

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Garner's Usage Tip of the Day: site; sight.

site; sight.

This is yet another example of homophonic confusion. A "site" is a place or location; a "sight" is (among other things) something seen or worth seeing.

This example is an unusually close call: "The intern liked to ask the 42-year-old lawyer, who was working for the firm as an independent contractor, for advice ranging from how to maintain integrity as a lawyer to what sights [read ‘sites’?] he should visit in California." "Victims of Chance in Deadly Rampage," N.Y. Times, ...

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

Miscellaneous Entries.

sibylline (= prophetic; mysterious) is often misspelled *"sybilline" — e.g.: There were Joan's often sybilline [read ‘sibylline’] remarks — Of course, we always do Tibet from the north. Nicholas Haslam, Joan Lady Camrose: Family Fortunes, Guardian, 29 May 1997, at 17. The word is pronounced /SIB-uh-lIn/.

sic, vb.; sick, vb. "Sic" means to direct a person or an animal to chase or attack someone or something. "Sick," once the dominant form, is a variant spelling today — e.g.: We have ...

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Garner's Usage Tip of the Day: sink / sank / sunk.

sink / sank / sunk.
So inflected. Occasionally the past participle ousts the simple-past form from its rightful place — e.g.:

o "When the Montreal Expos announced that they had selected outfielder Errick L. Williams in the annual Rule 5 draft, it caused barely a ripple of interest. Until it sunk [read ‘sank’] in exactly who Errick L. Williams was." Larry Stone, "Montreal Picks, Plans to Trade Heisman-Toting Ricky Williams," Seattle Times, 15 Dec. 1998, at E4.

o "Elsewhere in Times ...

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LawProse Lesson # 88

What are the rules on initial capitals?

ANSWER: Most of the first letters of words in the titles of books, articles, songs, etc. are capitalized. The exceptions are articles or prepositions of four or fewer letters (unless they begin the title). So The Great Escape and Much Ado About Nothing, but Hope Is the Thing with Feathers.

Proper names are always capitalized. People’s titles and ranks are usually treated as ordinary nouns and capitalized as ...

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Garner's Usage Tip of the Day: single most.

single most.
This grating redundancy (“single” adds nothing to the superlative it precedes) appears most often in quoted speech, but it’s also common in edited text — e.g.:

o “To see or not to see? Stratford is a must for every big-bus tour in England, and probably the single most [read ‘most’] popular side-trip from London.” Rick Steves, Rick Steves’ Great Britain 2008 269 (2008).

o “Yves Saint Laurent, widely considered the single most [read ‘most’] influential fashion designer of the ...

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Garner's Usage Tip of the Day: single; singular.

Part A: As Adjectives.

“Single” = (1) only one in number; sole; individual {a single strand of hair at the crime scene}; or (2) unmarried {single white male seeks single female for conversation and possible romance}. “Singular” = (1) exceptional, remarkable, one-of-a-kind {a singular achievement}; or (2) odd, eccentric {singular behavior}.

In the following example, the writer uses “singular” once correctly (in the sense “one-of-a-kind”) and once incorrectly (for “single”) in a forced attempt at a parallel: “It was not supposed ...

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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 make ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: sing / sang / sung.

sing / sang / sung.
So inflected. The past-participial "sung" is often misused as a simple-past verb — e.g.:

o "She sung [read ‘sang’] the title track." Timothy Finn, "Williams Rocks, Sways Through Raw, Earnest Concert," Kansas City Star, 13 Dec. 1998, at B8.

o "But the poet’s more than 1,500 songs, including many soulful lyrics that he sung [read ‘sang’] for films, also stirred the hearts of his poorer country members." "Pradeep, Hindi Poet, Songwriter," L.A. Times, 14 Dec. 1998, at ...

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LawProse Lesson #87

What are the rules on indenting?

ANSWER: The first rule of indenting is to change your word-processor’s default tab setting.

Half-inch tabs are a sure sign of a dysfunctional layout. They jump out at you as soon as you pick up a document and see “A.” half an inch from the left margin, followed by another half inch before the text begins. The problem builds when writers use cumulative indents, especially for headings. After a few levels of hierarchy we ...

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Garner's Usage Tip of the Day: since.


This subordinating conjunction may bear a sense either of time or of logical connection. Despite the canard that the word properly relates only to time, the causal meaning has existed continuously in the English language for more than a thousand years. In modern print sources, the causal sense is almost as common as the temporal sense. Typically, “since” expresses a milder sense of causation than “because” does — e.g.:

o “Since the normal teaching load at L.S.U. was then 12 ...

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