Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: sly.

sly.

"Sly" (= wily, cunning, sneaky) preferably makes "slyer," "slyest," and "slyly." But some writers use the variant spellings *"slier," *"sliest," and *"slily" — e.g.:

o "The land has been creeping slily [read 'slyly'] out to sea for the last twenty centuries or so." Steven Moore, "The Beast in the Vatican," Wash. Post, 15 Sept. 1996, Book World §, at 4.

o "This is not a Michael Jordan-light-up-a-planet smile but something slier [read 'slyer'], more subtle, the expression of a man who ...

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LawProse Lesson # 93: The toughest spelling test you’ll encounter.

What are the most commonly misspelled legal terms?

Spelling raises troublesome issues. It’s no more important, really, than dribbling is to basketball, short putts to golf, or personal hygiene to social relations. If you think they’re/there/their is a distinction you needn’t concern yourself with — perhaps because it’s below your pay grade — you’re (not your) probably impervious to how much your (not you’re) carefree attitude has already hampered your (you get the picture) ...
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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: slough (2).

slough (2).

Today: Misspelled "sluff" as a Verb.

"Slough off" (= [1] to shed an outer skin; or [2] to cast off, discard) is sometimes incorrectly written *"sluff off" (a phonetic spelling) — e.g.: "As he delves deeper into a lousy world in which people steal children for money, he expands, sluffs [read 'sloughs'] off his lethargy and assumes the role of avenger." Chris Meehan, "Child's Kidnapping for Baby Broker Triggers Tale of Love and Vengeance," Grand Rapids Press, 12 ...

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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.

skill-less — so hyphenated — is sometimes misspelled *"skilless." E.g.: "Regardless of what people think, it's not a skilless [read ‘skill-less’] job," said a clerk at a West End Safeway. Mike Sadava, No Stores to Shut if Strike Hits Safeway, Edmonton J., 21 Mar. 1997, at B3.

skim milk; *skimmed milk. Though the latter was the original form, "skim milk" is now standard, outstripping the other in frequency of use by an 8-to-1 ratio.

skulduggery; *skullduggery; *sculduggery; *scullduggery. "Skulduggery" (= ...

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LawProse Lesson # 92

What’s the most common syntactical error that lawyers make?

ANSWER: It has to do with appositives. Lawyers can’t seem to handle them. They cause problems in both phrasing and punctuation.

So what’s an appositive? Garner’s Modern American Usage (3d ed. 2009) defines it as a word or phrase that points to the same person or thing by a different name, usually with an explanatory phrase that narrows a more general word or phrase. So in the sentence My friend ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: slink / slunk / slunk.

slink / slunk / slunk.

So inflected.

*"Slank" and *"slinked" are nonstandard variants in the past tense and past participle — e.g.:

o "The advent of the riders bruited by scurvid curs that howled woundedly and slank [read ‘slunk’] among the crumbling walls." Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, Or, The Evening Redness in the West 97 (1992).

o "He rolled the flag into a ball and slinked [read ‘slunk’] off the track. His bronze medal was gone. [Wallace] Spearmon had been DQd for weaving ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: sling / slung / slung.

sling / slung / slung.

So inflected. As a past-tense form, "slang" is dialectal. As a past participle meaning "placed in a sling," "slinged" can be convenient, but it can also be startlingly ambiguous — e.g.: "Pediatric experts such as Dr. William Sears claim slinged babies are more alert." Sue Gleiter, "Baby on Board: Sling Allows Moms to Enjoy Hands-Off Freedom," Post-Standard (Syracuse), 9 Sept. 2007, at I4. Outside that limited sense, the nonword *"slinged" is an infrequent error — ...

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LawProse Lesson # 91

In The Winning Brief, why does Bryan Garner cite so many books on writing to support his 100 brief-writing tips?

ANSWER: The whole purpose of the book is to counteract the sylistically wayward practices of inept brief-writers, from ill-constructed sentences to unreadable issue statements. As he is quick to point out when teaching his seminar “The Winning Brief,” Professor Garner wanted to debunk the idea that normal rules of prose style don’t apply to ...
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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: slew, n.

slew, n.

"Slew" (= a large number), which most commonly appears in the phrase "whole slew," is sometimes miswritten "slough" (= a stagnant bogpronounced /sloo/) — e.g.:

o "Watch for a whole slough [read 'slew'] of indictments to be issued today stemming from a major cargo theft ring involving baggage handlers at O’Hare Airport." Michael Sneed, "Tipsville," Chicago Sun-Times, 22 May 1992, at 2.

o "There are winter onions, Egyptian onions and a whole slough [read 'slew'] of other types grown only ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: slay / slew / slain (1).

slay / slew / slain (1).

Today: Generally.

"Slay" = (1) to kill; or (2) to overwhelm, often with delight. In sense 1, the verb has gradually been disappearing from common use except in poetry, headlines, and references to crime victims — e.g., "her son was slain by a stranger in 2002." Even that usage is unusual; the more usual word would be "killed" or "murdered."

But as a past-participial adjective, "slain" has ...

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

Slang (3)
Today: The Middle Road.

So where does the truth lie? Perhaps somewhere in between the two views. If the focus is on speech, then slang undoubtedly has its place in every normal person's mouth. Some will use it more than others. It grows out of a desire for novelty (freshness), experience shared with others (specialization), a sense of humor and a delight in metaphor (playfulness), an economy of words (pithiness), and sometimes a desire to be part ...

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