The Year 2012 in Language & Writing

January

The Los Angeles Times reported on local poet and journalist John Tottenham’s crusade against the pandemic overuse and abuse of the word awesome. The British expat has launched what he calls the Campaign to Stamp Out Awesome, complete with stickers, t-shirts, and a manifesto, all available at the campaign’s headquarters, the Echo Park bookstore where Tottenham works. Once he’s laid awesome to rest, the linguistic crusader plans to spread his “quiet revolution” to other fronts. Next on the kibosh ...

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

Miscellaneous Entries.

spill / spilled / spilled. So inflected. The archaic past form "spilt" still sometimes appears in metaphorical references to "spilt milk" ("Don't cry over spilt milk"), but "spilled milk" is somewhat more common.

spiral, vb., makes "spiraled" and "spiraling" in American English, "spiralled" and "spiralling" in British English.

spiritual; spiritualistic; spirituous; *spiritous; spirituel; spirituelle; spirited. "Spiritual" is the broadest of these terms, meaning "of the spirit as opposed to matter; of the soul esp. as acted on by God; concerned ...

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

Miscellaneous Entries.

speechify = to deliver a speech. The word is used in a mocking or derogatory way.

speed / sped / sped. The best past-tense and past-participial form is "sped," not *"speeded" — except in the phrasal verb "speed up" (= to accelerate) {she speeded up to 80 m.p.h.}. Language-Change Index — *"speeded" for "sped" as past tense and past participle of "speed": Stage 2.

spew (= to gush or vomit) is sometimes misspelled *"spue" — e.g.: "The enemy must be ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: spasmodic; *spasmodical; *spasmatic; spastic.

spasmodic; *spasmodical; *spasmatic; spastic.

"Spasmodic" = (1) of, relating to, or characterized by a spasm; or (2) intermittent, sporadic, unsustained. *"Spasmodical" and *"spasmatic" are needless variants. "Spasmatic" is labeled "rare or obsolete" by the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, but of those two labels only "rare" is accurate — e.g.:

o "Likewise, human history is a spasmatic [read 'spasmodic'], seemingly random rise from a lake, through evolution, to the high points of history." Ernest Tucker, "Laughs Fail to Work in AIDS Farce," ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: spartan; sparse.

spartan; sparse.

"Spartan" is the antonym of "luxurious," and "sparse" the antonym of "luxuriant." But there the similarities end.

In ancient Greece, the people of Sparta were known as being stoical, frugal, simple, laconic, brave, disciplined, and indifferent to comfort or luxury. From them we get the adjective "spartan," which describes someone with the qualities just listed {the spartan pioneers of the American West}. By extension, a person's surroundings, diet, or lifestyle can be spartan when comforts or luxuries are few ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: sow, vb.

sow, vb.

Part A: Inflection: sow / sowed / sown. In the past participle, *"sowed" is a variant form. In modern print sources, "sown" predominates by a 6-to-1 ratio.

Part B: Sowing wild oats. To "sow" is to scatter seed. By extension, to "sow one's wild oats" is to engage in youthful promiscuity or other excess. Some writers, though, mistake "sow" (/soh/) with its homophone "sew" (= to stitch with needle and thread) — e.g.: "How completely different it was when ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: sour grapes.

sour grapes.

This is one of the most commonly misused idiomatic metaphors. It is not a mere synonym of "envy" or "jealousy." Rather, as in Aesop's fable about the fox who wanted the grapes he could not reach, "sour grapes" denotes the human tendency to disparage as undesirable what one really wants but can't get (or hasn't gotten). For example, a high-school boy who asks a girl for a date and is turned down might then insult her in all ...

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

Miscellaneous Entries.

sound bite. So spelled — not *"sound byte." E.g.: "Although this was a fairly logical prediction to make, knowing the teams, their styles, and their media sound bytes [read 'bites'] throughout the week, Kawakami hit the nail on the head." "For His Next Trick: Tonight's Winning Lottery Numbers," L.A. Times, 22 Mar. 1997, at C3. The metaphor is of a bite-sized quotation, especially on video. "Byte," on the other hand, denotes a string of eight binary digits (bits) ...

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LawProse Lesson #99

Why did the late David Mellinkoff object to using “last will and testament”?

The phrase last will and testament is a common legal doublet — a ceremonious phrase with ancient resonances. Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634) referred to an ultima voluntas in scriptis (= last will in writing). Last will and testamentis not a term of art but falls under the heading of ritual language, which is always directed to a lay rather than a ...
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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Sound of Prose (2).

Sound of Prose (2).

Today: Awkward Repetition.

Too much repeating of sounds can enfeeble your style, especially if two different forms of the same root appear close together — e.g.:

o "The major role of legislative liaisons is to answer legislators' [read 'lawmakers'] questions about the impact of proposed legislation [read 'bills'] on various agencies." Editor's Note to a letter to the editor, Chicago Sun-Times, 22 June 1992, at 18.

o "The next stop is the House-Senate conference, where conferees [read 'legislators'] ...

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

Sound of Prose (1).

Today: Undue Alliteration or Rhyme.

Every writer is occasionally guilty of having a tin ear. But the effective writer is self-trained not to write in a way that distracts with undue alliteration, unconscious puns, accidental rhyming, or unseemly images. These clunkers are sure to irritate some readers. And although clunkers are never entirely escapable, writers can learn to minimize them — most helpfully by acquiring the habit of reading their prose aloud.

I.A. Richards, in a classic ...

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: sort of, adv.

sort of, adv.
"Sort of" as an adverb is a casualism that hedges what would otherwise be a direct statement. It should be avoided in polished writing. Both of the following sentences would be improved by dropping it:

o "It used to be easy to think of McElwee as a sort of [delete 'sort of'] literary novelist, but one with no chance of getting a movie option." Abby McGanney Nolan, "Ross McElwee: Man with a Movie Camera," Village Voice, 27 Jan. ...

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