Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: *sooner rather than later.

*sooner rather than later.

Not only is this idiom redundant; it isn't entirely logical because the comparison is never completed. Sooner and not later than what? "Soon" is usually an improvement — e.g.:

o "If so, that could dampen fears that the Federal Reserve will act sooner, rather than later, [read 'soon'] to boost interest rates again." William Goodwin, "Jobs Report Fails to Shake Up Markets," Am. Banker, 10 Oct. 1994, at 48.

o "They argue that subjects such as Jerusalem are ...

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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.

solo. The plural is solos — preferably not *soli.

soluble; solvable. Soluble is usually applied to dissolvable substances, whereas solvable is usually applied to problems. But soluble is also sometimes used in reference to problems; this usage is acceptable, though not preferred.

somber; sombre. The first is American English, the second British English.

somebody; someone. The words are equally good; euphony should govern the choice. Someone is often better by that standard. Each is a singular noun that, for purposes of concord, ...

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

sometime (2).

Today: Two More Uses.

Part A: As an Adjective Meaning "former." This is a slightly archaic sense of "sometime": "my sometime companion." The word does not properly signify "on-again-off-again" or "occasional" — as it appears to in the following quotation (as suggested by the incorrect use of "sometimes"): "Jack Kemp, the former Congressman and Housing Secretary and a sometimes-supporter [read 'sometime supporter'] of Mr. Dole, said in a television interview ...

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LawProse Lesson #97: “Between” vs. “among”

Is it ever proper to use between when expressing a relation with more than two things?

ANSWER: Yes. Good writers commonly use between when referring to more than two things that have reciprocal relations.

It’s a common superstition that you should never use between when talking about more than two elements. Generally, between does apply to two, but as Theodore M. Bernstein explained in Dos, Don’ts & Maybes of English Usage, “sometimes the ‘two’ relationship is present when more than ...

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

sometime (1).

Today: And "some time."

"Sometime" = at an indefinite or unspecified time; esp., at a time in the future {we'll see each other sometime}. "Some time" = quite a while {they spent some time together}. The difference may be illustrated by contrasting the senses of these two sentences: (1) "It was not until sometime later that George quit." (The precise time is unknown to the writer.) (2) "It was not until some time later that George quit." (George waited ...

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

solicit (1).

Today: For “elicit.”

To “solicit” a response is to request it. To “elicit” a response is to get it.

But some writers confuse the two, usually by misusing “solicit” for “elicit” — e.g.: “‘The way the question was worded didn’t solicit [read ‘elicit’] the type of response I think we were looking for,’ Ekberg said.” Geordie Wilson, “Three Levies on One Ballot a Possibility for Voters,” Seattle Times, 15 Aug. 1991, at C3.

The following example contains an ambiguity — ...

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

Miscellaneous Entries.

*software program. Avoid this redundancy. Either word will do, though “software” will usually be the better choice because it’s the narrower term.

solace (= comfort in sorrow or trouble; relief from distress) should not be used merely as a synonym of “comfort,” without the circumstance of grief or distress being implied. The misuse occurs here: “Companies with the greatest market share often have a tendency to ‘sit on a lead.’ They will take solace [read ‘undue pride’?] in their numbers, ...

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LawProse Lesson #96

What’s the best way to build your vocabulary? Why is it a good idea to do so? 

ANSWER: First, keep a vocabulary notebook. Jot down every unfamiliar word that you encounter, look it up in a reliable dictionary, and copy down its definition. Commit it to memory. Try to make it yours. Second, read a book on vocabulary building. At LawProse, we recommend these:

  • Charles Harrington Elster, Verbal Advantage (2000).
  • Wilfred Funk & Norman Lewis, 30 Days to a More Powerful ...
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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: solely.

Like “only,” this word is sometimes misplaced syntactically — e.g.: “Orick said that although the educational programs are sponsored by Purdue University, they are not solely related [read ‘related solely’] to preservation of agricultural farmlands.” Welton W. Harris II, “Land-Use Plan Sessions Scheduled,” Indianapolis News, 2 Dec. 1997, Metro N. §, at 1.

Also, the word is fairly frequently misspelled *"soley" — e.g.: “Since playing basketball as a freshman, Prentiss has concentrated soley [read ‘solely’] on softball.” John Hines, “Buffaloes Figure ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: solecism.

solecism.

Generally, "solecism" (/SAHL-uh-siz-uhm/) refers to a grammatical or syntactic error, often a gross mistake. E.g.: "I once spoke French well enough to teach in a Marseille lycee — but that was 25 years ago and today I could hardly string two sentences together without committing some gross solecism." Michael Dirda, "The Lingo Kid," Wash. Post, 18 May 1997, Book World §, at 15.

A solecism can also be a social impropriety, especially in British English — e.g.: "'This [feeding fruitcake ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: sola topi.

sola topi.

"Sola topi" (= a pith helmet, originating in India, made from the sola plant) is sometimes misspelled *"solar topi" — e.g.:

o "But she kept the English cricketing cap and the solar [read 'sola'] topi." Joan Bridgman, "Mad Dogs, Englishwomen and Nureyev," Contemp. Rev., 1 Apr. 1995, at 213.

o "The most unusual purchase at the Pukka Palace sale was of nine solar [read 'sola'] topis, which went for a bargain price of £20.76 each." Rachel Halliburton, "It Could Be a ...

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