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• Is it all right to say alums instead of alumni or alumnae? And should it be spelled alums or alumns?
• Should I say empathic or empathetic? Do you home in or hone in? Is it a couple of dozen or a couple dozen?
• What's the singular of paparazzi? Is paparazzis an acceptable plural? What about graffiti--singular or plural? And what about kudos?
• What's the correct pronunciation of concierge? Or schism? Or flaccid?
This book will tell you. In 750 pages of crisp, precise, and often witty pronouncements on modern American English, Bryan Garner authoritatively answers these and thousands of other questions that bedevil those who care about the language. Garner draws on massive evidence to support his judgments, citing more than 5,000 examples--good, bad, and ugly--from sources such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek.
Here is a usage guide that, whether you're a language connoisseur or just a dabbler, you can savor in a leisurely way, a few paragraphs at a time. No one can browse through the book without sharing the author's spirited awareness of how words work and his relish for exposing the affectations that bloat our language. Yet if you don't have the time for browsing, but simply want a quick answer to an editorial riddle, this book is your best bet.
DMAU can justifiably lay claim to being the most comprehensive treatment of how American English is used--and abused--as we enter the 21st century.
"This wonderfully written work aims to help people use language so they will use the right words to say what they mean. Garner relies on modern sources rather than historical precedent to determine the current, correct usage. He even advises writers about which words to avoid altogether. Each of the approximately 7,000 entries provides a definition, discusses the usage of the word, provides illustrative quotations, and gives citations to the references and quotations. This is an entertaining, witty, and unpretentious resource that will always come in handy in the public or academic library."----"Outstanding reference sources 2000", American Libraries, May 2000. Comp. by the Reference Sources Committee, RUSA, ALA.
a. A. Choice Between a and an. The indefinite article a is used before words beginning with a consonant sound, including /y/ and /w/ sounds. The other form, an, is used before words beginning with a vowel sound. Hence a European country, a Ouija board, a uniform, an FBI agent, an MBA degree, an SEC filing.
The distinction between a and an was not solidified until the 19th century. Up to that time, an preceded most words beginning with a vowel, regardless of how the first syllable sounded. The U.S. Constitution, for example, reads: "The Congress shall have Power ... [t]o establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization...." U.S. Const. art. I, § 8. But that is no excuse for a late-20th-century writer: "The revisions include ... [f]iling legislation to create an uniform [read a uniform] inspection code." Doris Sue Wong, "Revisions to Title 5 Unveiled," Boston Globe, 2 Aug. 1995, at 25.
Writers on usage formerly disputed whether the correct article is a or an with historian, historic, and a few other words. The traditional rule is that if the h- is sounded, a is the proper form. Most people following that rule would say a historian and a historic—e.g.: "Democrat Bill Clinton appears within reach of capturing the White House in Tuesday's election, but Republicans hope that late momentum can enable President Bush to win a historic upset." Carl P. Leubsdorf, "Bush Hopes for Late Surge,"Dallas Morning News, 1 Nov. 1992, at 1A. Even H.W. Fowler, in the England of 1926, advocated a before historic(al) and humble (MEU1 at 1).
The theory behind using an in such a context, however, is that the h- is very weak when the accent is on the second rather than the first syllable (giving rise, by analogy, to an habitual offender, an humanitarian, an hallucinatory image, and an harassed school-teacher). Thus no authority countenances an history, though a few older ones prefer an historian and an historical.
Today, however, an hypothesis and an historical are likely to strike readers and listeners as affectations. As Mark Twain once wrote, referring to humble, heroic, and historical: "Correct writers of the American language do not put an before those words." The Stolen White Elephant 220 (1882). Anyone who sounds the h- in such words should avoid pretense and use a. An humanitarian is, judged even by the most tolerant standards, a pretentious humanitarian. See herb & humble.
B. In Distributive Senses. A, in the distributive sense <ten hours a day>, has traditionally been considered preferable to per, which originated in COMMERCIALESE and LEGALESE. But per has muscled its way into idiomatic English in phrases such as 60 miles per hour, one golf cart per couple, and five books per student. Although an could be substituted for per in the first of those phrases, a wouldn't work well in the second or third.
When the construction requires a PHRASAL ADJECTIVE, per is the only idiomatic word—e.g.: "Our per-unit cost is less than $1,000."/ "The $50-per-parent fee seems unreasonably high."
abandon, vb. See desert.
abandonment; abandon, n. The usual idiom is wild abandon or reckless abandon, not abandonment. The SOED dates the noun abandon (= surrender to natural impulses; freedom from constraint or convention) from the early 19th century. But it records abandonment as sharing this sense from the mid-19th century. Still, abandon is such a preponderant idiom that the two terms ought to be distinguished. In the following sentences, abandon would better accord with modern usage:
* "One worrisome puzzlement: How can my countrymen celebrate in such wild abandonment [read abandon] on the carnage of so many helpless children and the thousands that are disease-ridden and dying every hour?" Ledelle Tompkins, "What Is There to Celebrate in Operation Desert Storm?" Ariz. Republic, 3 July 1991, at A18.
* "By the cocktail hour we feel like kids again, munching canapes with wild abandonment [read abandon] and gulping down our favorite libations." Nancy McIntyre, "Body's Nightly Organ Recitals Drown Out Harmony of Sleep," Ariz. Republic, 12 Mar. 1993, at B11.
* "Like a ventriloquist, the President put these words in the mouth of Dr. King: `... I did not fight for the right of black people to murder other black people with reckless abandonment [read abandon].'" H. Bruce Franklin, "What King Really Would Have Said," Philadelphia Inquirer, 7 Dec. 1993, at A17.
abbreviable. So formed—not abbreviatable. See -ATABLE.
Abbreviations. A. Acronyms and Initialisms. Five points merit our attention here. First, we should be aware of the difference between the two types of abbreviated names. An acronym is made from the first letters or parts of a compound term. It's usually read or spoken as a single word, not letter by letter (e.g., radar = radio detection and ranging). An initialism is also made from the first letters or parts of a compound term, but it's usually sounded letter by letter, not as one word (e.g., r.p.m. = revolutions per minute).
Second, the question often arises whether to place periods after each letter in an acronym or initialism. Searching for consistency on this point is futile. The trend nowadays is to omit the periods; including them is the more conservative and traditional approach. Yet surely if an acronym is spoken as a single word (e.g., UNESCO), periods are meaningless. If an initialism is made up of lowercase letters, periods are preferable: rpm looks odd as compared with r.p.m., and am (as opposed to a.m.) looks like the verb. One method of determining whether to omit or include periods is to follow the form that the organization itself uses (e.g., IRS, HUD), although inconsistencies are common. (For an anomalous abbreviation, see ID.)
Third, the best practice is to give the reader some warning of an uncommon acronym by spelling out the words and enclosing the acronym in parentheses when the term is first used. A reference to CARPE Rules may confuse a reader who does not at first realize that three or four lines above this acronym, the writer has made reference to a Committee on Academic Rights, Privileges, and Ethics.
Fourth, in AmE the tendency is to uppercase all the characters (e.g., GAAP, MADD, NASA). But in BrE, the tendency is to uppercase only the first letter, as in Ifor in this example: "More recently, U.S. officials have acknowledged that a few U.S. troops will be needed early next year because the U.S.-led Implementation Force (Ifor) will not be able to pull all its armour out in time." Laura Silber & Bruce Clark, "U.S. Pledges Continued Troop Support in Bosnia," Fin. Times, 13 June 1996, at 12.
Finally, as illustrated under (C), the use in a single text of too many abbreviated forms leads to dense and frustrating prose.
B. Redundant Acronyms. Some acronyms often appear as part of a two-word phrase, in which the second word is also what one of the acronym's letters stands for. Thus, a bank customer withdraws cash from an ATM machine, using a PIN number as a password. A supermarket clerk searches a milk carton for its UPC code. High-school seniors study hard for the SAT test. Economists monitor the CPI Index. American and Russian diplomats sit down to negotiate at the SALT talks. And scientists try to unlock the mysteries of the deadly HIV virus.
The problem with these phrases, of course, is that they are technically redundant (automated-teller machine machine, personal-identification number number, Universal Product Code code, Scholastic Aptitude Test test, Consumer Price Index Index, Strategic Arms Limitation Talks talks, and human-immunodeficiency virus virus). And while the redundancies may be passable in speech—especially with unfamiliar acronyms—they should be avoided in edited writing.
For a different type of redundant acronym, see RSVP.
C. Initialese. One of the most irritating types of pedantry in modern writing is the overuse of abbreviations, especially abbreviated names. Originally, to be sure, abbreviations were intended to serve the convenience of the reader by shortening names so that cumbersome phrases would not have to be repeated in their entirety. The purported simplifications actually simplified. But many writers—especially technical writers—seem to have lost sight of this goal: they allow abbreviated terms to proliferate, and their prose quickly becomes a hybrid-English system of hieroglyphs requiring the reader to refer constantly to the original uses of terms to grasp the meaning. This kind of writing might be thought more scholarly than ordinary, straightforward prose. It isn't. Rather, it's tiresome and inconsiderate writing; it betrays the writer's thoughtlessness toward the reader and a puerile fascination with the insubstantial trappings of scholarship.
Three examples suffice to illustrate the malady:
* "As a comparison to these item-level indices, the factor-level indices IFS and C_ANR [sic] were both computed for the maximum likelihood factors.... Compression of the factor space tends to decrease both IFS and C_ANR, while excessive expansion is likely to also decrease the C_ANR, while the IFS might be expected to be reasonably stable. Thus, four rotation solutions were computed based upon Matthews & Stanton's (1994) extraction of 21 factors, the Velicer MAP test indicator of 26 (PCA) and 28 (image) factors, and Autoscree indicators of 17 and 21 factors for PCA and image respectively. From these solutions, it was hypothesized that a full 31 factor rotation might provide the optimal C_ANR parameters for the OPQ scales. Further, as a by-product of the use of MLFA, it is possible to compute a test...." P. Barrett et al., "An Evaluation of the Psychometric Properties of the Concept 5.2 Occupational Personality Questionnaire," 69 J. Occupational & Organizational Psychology 1, 12 (1996).
* "For the initial model, the significant variable TRANS is only significantly correlated with SUBNO. SUBCTY is correlated with NI, with SUBNO, and with FSALEPER. NI, however, is significantly correlated with: (1) DOMVIN; (2) METH1; and (3) METH3. In the reduced model, these intercorrelations with NI are not an area for concern...." Karen S. Cravens & Winston T. Shearon, Jr., "An Outcome-Based Assessment of International Transfer Pricing Policy," 31 Int'l J. Accounting 419, 436 (1996) (parentheticals omitted).
* "SLIP, like VALP and ECC, is a defeasible constraint that is obeyed by all the types of head-nexus phrase considered thus far. It guarantees that (except in SLASH-binding contexts that we turn to in a moment) the SLASH value of a phrase is the SLASH value of its head-daughter." Ivan A. Sag, "English Relative Clause Constructions," 33 J. Linguistics 431, 446 (1997).
And so it goes throughout each article.
In naming something new, one's task is sometimes hopeless: the choice is clear between ALI-ABA CLE Review and American Law Institute-American Bar Association Continuing Legal Education Review, but one cannot choose either enthusiastically. Both sponsors must have their due (in part so that they can have their dues), and the acronyms might gradually become familiar to readers. But they aren't ideal because they give bad first impressions.
Remember that effective communication takes two—the writer and the reader. Arthur Quiller-Couch reminded writers never to forget the audience:
[T]he obligation of courtesy rests first with the author, who invites the seance, and commonly charges for it. What follows, but that in speaking or writing we have an obligation to put ourselves into the hearer's or reader's place? It is his comfort, his convenience, we have to consult. To express ourselves is a very small part of the business: very small and unimportant as compared with impressing ourselves: the aim of the whole process being to persuade.
Quiller-Couch, On the Art of Writing
291-92 (2d ed. 1943).
Abbreviations are often conveniences for writers but inconveniences for readers. Whenever that is so, they should vanish.
abdomen is most commonly pronounced de-mean/, though some people continue to the old-fashioned/ab-doh-men/.
aberrant, adj.; aberrational; aberrative. These terms appear in order of descending frequency. Aberrant/a-be-rent/ = deviating from behavioral or social norms. Aberrational /a-be-ray-she-nel/ = of or pertaining to an aberration. Aberrative /e-ber-e-tiv/ = tending toward aberration.
aberration; aberrance; aberrancy; aberrant, n. Aberrant, almost always used reference to persons, means "a deviant; deviating from an established norm." ITL [Aberration which is not limited to persons, means (1) "a deviation or departure from what is normal or correct"; or (2) "a mental derangement Aberrance and aberrancy are NEEDLESS VARIANTS of aberration.
abettor; abetter. In both AmE and BrE abettor is the more usual spelling. See -ER (A). Cf. bettor.
abide. A. General Senses.] BLD Abide = (1) to stay <the right of entering and abiding in state in the Union>; (2) to tolerate, withstand <we won't abide that type of misconduct> to obey (construed with by) <we abided by rules>; (4) to await <our decision must a the outcome of this struggle>; or (5) to form or execute (in reference to court orders or judgments) <the lower courts must a the judgments of the Supreme Court>.
B. Past-Tense and Past-Participial Forms. In two senses ("await" and "execute"). abided is the preferred past tense and participle. In the archaic sense "to stay, dwell," abode is the preferred past tense, either abode or abided is the past participle. For most ordinary purposes, abided serves well without seeming stilted.
ability; capacity. The traditional distinction is that while ability is qualitative, ITL [capacity] ITL is quantitative. Hence, ability refers to a person's power of body or mind < writer of great a ability>; capacity, meaning literally "roomy, spacious," refers figuratively to a person's physical or mental power to receive <her memory has an extraordinary capacity for details>
For the distinction between capacity and capability see capacity.
abjection; abjectness. The subtle difference between these two is that abjection refers to the condition, abjectness to the state of mind. E.g.: "How does one feel to return to Germany or Austria and see the high standard of living in these countries while remembering the absolute abjection experienced by the victims?" Elliot Welles, "A Painful, Vital Memory," Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 3 Feb. 1995, at 11B./"Hair intact, she would constantly call attention to her classmates' abjectness, perhaps inspiring some male cadet to challenge the headshaving rule on the grounds that it's sexually discriminatory." Ellen Willis, "Ellen Willis," Village Voice, 13 Sept. 1994, at 8. As it happens, the two words occur about equally often.
abjure; adjure. A. Senses Distinguished. Abjure may mean either (1) "to renounce" <Germany abjured the use of force>, or (2) "to avoid" <her evaluation abjured excessive praise>. In bygone days, people were sometimes required to "abjure the realm," i.e., go abroad. Adjure means "to charge or entreat solemnly" <Reagan adjured the Soviets to join him in this noble goal>. See adjure.
B. Cognate Forms. The noun forms are abjuration (or abjurement—now defunct) and adjuration. The adjectival forms end in -tory. The agent nouns are abjurer and adjurer.
-ABLE. A. Choice of -able or -ible. Many adjectives have competing forms ending in -able and -ible. Some of these have undergone DIFFERENTIATION in meaning; the less commonly used forms in some pairs are merely NEEDLESS VARIANTS of the predominant forms. The lists that follow contain the most troublesome words of this class.
Unlike -ible, -able is a living suffix that may be added to virtually any verb without an established suffix in either -able or -ible. Following are only some of the hundreds of adjectives preferably spelled -able:
Although -ible is now dead as a combining form in English, the following words still retain that suffix:
Some adjectives with the variant suffixes have different meanings. Thus impassable means "closed, incapable of being traversed"; its twin, impassible, means "unable to feel pain" or, less distinctively, "impassive, emotionless." Passable and passible have correspondingly positive meanings. (These pairs are formed from different Latin roots, L. passus "having suffered" and L. passare "to step.") Similarly, impartible means "not subject to partition" and impartable "capable of being imparted." Conversable means "oral," while conversible is a NEEDLESS VARIANT of convertible. Forcible means either "done by means of force" <forcible entry> or "characterized by force" <forcible behavior>; forceable, much less frequently encountered, would be the better term to describe a door that is "capable of being forced open." See forcible.
Other variant adjectives, though, are merely duplicative. Typical examples are extendable, extendible, and extensible. The first of these is now prevalent in AmE (though labeled obsolete in the OED). Extensible was, through the mid-20th century, the most common form, but today it trails extendable by a substantial margin, while extendible continues to appear infrequently. Writers and editors ought to settle on the most firmly established form—extendable, which is as well formed as the variants—and trouble their minds with weightier matters. See NEEDLESS VARIANTS, DIFFERENTIATION & MUTE E.
B. Attaching -able to Nouns. This passive suffix is usually attached to verbs, as in avoidable, forgettable, and reproachable. But sometimes it's attached to nouns, as in marriageable, objectionable, and salable. These do not mean "able to be marriaged," "able to be objectioned," and so on. Although marryable and objectable would have been the more logical forms, time, idiom, and usage have made these and several other forms both ineradicable and unobjectionable.
C. Attaching -able to Intransitive Verbs. A few words formerly upset purists: dependable (depend-on-able), indispensable (in-dispense-with-able), laughable (laugh-at-able), reliable (rely-on-able), and unaccountable (un-account-for-able). They're indispensable to the modern writer—not at all laughable. See reliable.
D. Converting -ate Verbs into -able Adjectives. When -able is added to a transitive polysyllabic verb ending in the suffix -ate, that suffix is dropped. Hence, accumulable, calculable, regulable, etc. (See -ATABLE.) Exceptions, however, occur with two-syllable words, such as rebatable and debatable.
E. Dropping or Retaining the Medial -e-. This question arises in words such as irreconcilable, microwavable, movable, resumable, and salable. Although writers formerly put an -e- before -able, both AmE and BrE generally drop such a medial -e-, except in words with a soft -c- (traceable) or a soft -g- (chargeable). See MUTE E.
able to [+ passive-voice vb.]. This construction is rare—and rightly so. A sentence such as That speech is able to be delivered by anyone can always be advantageously revised: Anyone can [or could] deliver that speech. See PASSIVE VOICE.
ablution (= washing), which appears most commonly in the plural form, should generally be reserved for washing or rinsing as part of a religious rite. E.g.: "She said his health is deteriorating, and he can no longer perform the ritual ablutions necessary for prayer without the help of two cellmates." Holger Jensen, "PLO," Rocky Mountain News, 18 Dec. 1994, at 89A. And the word may belong in exotic contexts—e.g.: "Early bathers were already making their morning ablutions [in the Ganges River]." Glenn Leichman, "Season's Greetings—on the Ganges," Seattle Times] ITL, 22 Dec. 1996, at K1. But the word is pretentious, or else facetious, when the reference is to the ordinary act of washing one's face and hands—e.g.: "[Insects] seem particularly attracted to the bath and I have to allow extra time for fishing them out with the nail brush before starting my ablutions." Sarah Biffen, "At Home: A Rest?" Daily Telegraph, 1 Dec. 1996, at 15.
aboard. Usually restricted to ships or planes in BrE, this word is applied broadly in AmE to any public conveyance—e.g.: "The bus had about 35 pupils aboard from Varina and Mehfoud Elementary schools." Mark Bowes, "It Was Close to a `Catastrophe,'" Richmond Times-Dispatch, 18 Jan. 1997, at B1.
abode, as past tense of abide. See abide (B).
abode, place of. This phrase is a pretentious way of referring to someone's home or house.
abolition; abolishment. The latter is a NEEDLESS VARIANT. Cf. admonition (B).
aborigine, as a singular noun, is a BACKFORMATION from the plural aborigines (L.aborgigine "from the beginnings"). Traditionally, the word aboriginal was considered the proper singular, but today aborigine is standard English as a singular noun. (Aboriginal is still current in adjectival uses.)
The spelling Aborigine, with the initial capital is traditional when referring to the indigenous peoples of Australia.
abort = (1) (of a pregnancy) to end prematurely, (2) (of a fetus) to cause to be expelled before full development; or (3) (of a pregnant woman) to cause to have an abortion. Senses 1 and 2 are more usual than sense 3, which, as an example of HYPALLAGE, strikes many readers as odd. E.g.: "In a case of 1949, the trial judge sentenced a husband who had tried to abort his wife and killed her to five years' penal servitude...." Glanville Williams, The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal 155 (1957).
abortifacient. See contraceptive.
abortive; aborted. Abortive may mean (1) "unsuccessful because cut short," or (2) "inchoate." With sense 1, it takes on the figurative sense of aborted (= cut short), as an abortive attempt, i.e., one cut short. (Note that -ive, an active suffix, here has a passive sense.) E.g.: "In the 50 years after the 1916 rising, an abortive anti-British rebellion, nationalists incorporated the tragedy into their vision of `a heroic struggle against seven centuries of British oppression'...." "Famine, Politics Intertwined," USA Today, 15 Jan. 1997, at 2D. Abortive is archaic in reference to abortions of fetuses, except in the sense "causing an abortion."
about. A. And approximately. When possible, use about instead of approximately, a FORMAL WORD. But about shouldn't appear, as it sometimes does, with other terms of approximation such as estimate and guess, because it means "roughly" or "approximately." E.g.: "[T]heir estimate that there are about [delete about] 110,000 minke whales in the northeastern Atlantic has been accepted by the International Whaling Commission." Mary Williams Walsh, "Whalers Hoping to Regain Acceptance," L.A. Times, 5 Sept. 1997, at A5.
B. And around. When there is a choice between about and around—as in beat around (or about) the bush, strewn around (or about) the garden, or all around (or about) the city— the word around greatly predominates in AmE. In those phrases, about sounds school-marmish.
C. About the head. Theodore M. Bernstein called this phrase "police-blotter lingo" (The Careful Writer at 5) when used in the sense "on" <the victim was pounded several times about the head>. The phrase might still be common in police blotters, but in published print sources it appears only occasionally— e.g.: "[A] Malaysian companion, 15, suffered a punctured eardrum from the interrogator's blows about the head." William Safire, "Singapore Adds Insult to Injury," Star Trib. (Minneapolis), 24 May 1994, at 15A.
D. At about. This phrase is sometimes criticized as a REDUNDANCY, the argument being that about can often do the work by itself. But in many contexts, especially those involving expressions of time, the phrase at about is common, idiomatic, and unimpeachable <we'll arrive at about 9:00 tonight>.
above. A. Meaning "more than" or "longer than." Restrict this usage to informal contexts. "Above [read More than] 600 people attended the reception."/ "Now, the RBI has allowed only the incentive of one percent for one-year deposits, 1.5 percent for two-year deposits and two percent for deposits above two years [read of two years or more or of longer than two years]." "NBFCs Allowed to Reimburse Part of Broker's Expenses," Econ. Times, 3 Oct. 1996, at 8. Cf. over (A).
B. For above-mentioned. Above is an acceptable ellipsis for above-mentioned, and it is much less inelegant <the above statements are his last recorded ones>.
It was long thought that above could not properly act as an adjective. But the word has been so used throughout the 20th century, even by the best writers. The OED records this use from 1873 and says that above "stands attributively," through ellipsis, for above said, above written, above mentioned, or some other phrase.
Some critics have suggested that above in this sense should refer only to something mentioned previously on the same page, but this restriction seems unduly narrow. Still, it's often better to make the reference exact by giving a page or paragraph number, rather than the vague reference made possible by above. Idiom will not, however, allow above to modify all nouns: above vehicle is unidiomatic for vehicle mentioned above. (If you must say mentioned, put above after that word.) Better yet would be the vehicle, if readers will know from the context which one you're talking about.
Less common than the adjectival above is the noun use <the above is entirely accurate>. Pooley's assessment still stands: "Any writer may feel free at any time to use `the above statement,' and with only slightly less assurance, `the above will prove.' In either case, he has the authority of scholars and standard literature." Robert C. Pooley, Teaching English Usage 130 (1946).
abridgable. So spelled—not abridgeable. See MUTE E.
abridgment; abridgement. The first spelling is AmE; the second is BrE. Cf. acknowledgment & judgment.
abrogable. So formed—not abrogatable. See -ATABLE.
abrogate; arrogate. These words are sometimes confounded. Abrogate, the more common term, means "to abolish (a law or custom) by authoritative or formal action; annul; repeal." E.g.: "In 1964, heavy fighting began on Cyprus after Cypriot Archbishop Makarios abrogated a 1960 treaty signed by Cyprus, Greece and Turkey." "Almanac," Chicago Trib., 4 Apr. 1997, Metro §, at 10.
Arrogate means "to usurp"—e.g.: "And if [the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court] rule in favor of the McDougall panel, they have even more dramatically arrogated to themselves the role of super legislators." "Resolving Judicial Malpractice," Detroit News, 9 Apr. 1997, at A6. See arrogate.
abscess (= a small mass of pus collected in a hollow where tissue has decayed) is often misspelled absess—e.g.: "Though the jokes start out low (tooth absesses [read abscesses], fake body casts), the sassin' siblings eventually show their true, warm, brotherly colors." "Fall Previews," Newsday (N.Y.), 8 Sept. 1996, at 4.
abscond, vb., is both transitive ("to conceal [something]") and intransitive ("to depart secretly or suddenly; to hide oneself"). The intransitive uses are more common—e.g.: "She absconded in early December and eluded police for a month." Brian Maffly, "Rape-Shield Law Shielding an Injustice?" Salt Lake Trib., 3 Oct. 1997, at D1./ "When two girls absconded with a car from their parents' driveway for a joyride, they blamed Jenny's stolen car escapade for giving them the idea." Julia Prodis, "Life After Suicide Pact No Joy Ride," Tulsa Trib. & Tulsa World, 30 Nov. 1997, at A5.
abscondence; abscondment; absconsion. The second and third are NEEDLESS VARIANTS rarely found; abscondence is the preferred and more common noun corresponding to the verb abscond. E.g.: "Apart from these abscondences, the only clue to emotional turmoil was a struggle with his weight." Andrew Billen, "Playing the Shrink," Observer, 15 Sept. 1996, at 12. Abscondance is an infrequent misspelllng.
absent, used as a preposition meaning "in the absence of" or "without," is commonly used in LEGALESE but is simply unnecessary JARGON. The typical replacements are without and in the absence of—e.g.: "Absent [read Unless our city has or In the absence of] these [qualities], the good citizens will choose to live outside this environment." Robert J. Fauls, Jr., "Let's Have Some Police Guidance," Atlanta J. & Const., 21 Mar. 1996, at 17A./ "That is, absent [read in the absence of] justification, any thing goes." Jonathan Rauch, "For Better or Worse?" New Republic, 6 May 1996, at 18. For an interesting discussion of how this American legalism has spread into nonlegal contexts, see two pieces by Alan R. Slotkin, "Absent `Without': Adjective, Participle, or Preposition," 60 Am. Speech 222 (1985); "Prepositional Absent: An Afterword," 64 Am. Speech 167 (1989).
Although WDEU dates this usage from 1945, in fact it appeared in a law case 26 years earlier: "[T]he Dean decision is a reminder ... that fraud in the transferor is enough under 67e, absent good faith in and a fair consideration on the part of the transferee...." Richardson v. Germania Bank of New York, 263 F. 320, 324 (2d Cir. 1919).
absentee, used as an adverb, is a new and useful linguistic development. E.g.: "Almost 9 percent of the voters voted absentee." Barbara Schlichtman, "Phillips, Chaney Apparently," Sunday Advocate (Baton Rouge), 6 Apr. 1997, at 4B. It would be cumbersome in that context to have to write voted as absentees. Although some dictionaries record absentee only as a noun, the adverbial usage is increasingly widespread. The word may function also as an adjective, as in absentee landlord.
absolute. See ADJECTIVES (B).
ABSOLUTE CONSTRUCTIONS Increasingly rare in modern prose, absolute constructions have traditionally allowed writers to vary their syntax while concisely subordinating incidental matter. The absolute phrase doesn't bear an ordinary grammatical relation to the rest of the sentence, since the noun or noun phrase does not perform any function (subject object, apposition, etc.) that ordinarily attaches a noun grammatically to other words in the sentence. Yet the whole absolute phrase adverbially modifies some verb. For example: The court adjourning, we left the courtroom. This is equivalent to When the court adjourned, we left the courtroom.
This construction often has an antique literary flavor. Few modern writers would use the nominative absolute in the way Herman Melville did: "[A] drumhead court was summarily convened, he electing the individuals composing it...." Billy Budd 63 (1891; repr. [Signet ed.] 1979). In that sentence, the pronoun he is modified by the participle electing; the individuals composing it is the object of electing. The whole italicized phrase is a nominative absolute, since it has no grammatical function in the statement A drumhead court was summarily convened.
As nominative absolutes become rarer, fewer and fewer writers understand how to handle them. Three problems arise. First, many writers insert with at the beginning of the phrase (making it something like an "objective absolute") <With Jacobson being absent, the party was a bore>. Second, some writers mistakenly make an absolute construction- what should be a "nominative" absolute—posessive <His being absent, the party was a bore>. Third, writers sometimes incorrectly separate the noun and the participle with a comma—e.g.: "President Clinton, having forcefully called attention to the atrocities in Bosnia, the U.N. decided to act." (Read: President Clinton having forcefully called attention to the atrocities in Bosnia, the U.N. decided to act.) See PUNCTUATION (D).
All in all, it's hard to quibble with the Fowler brothers' judgment that the absolute construction is "not much to be recommended." H.W. Fowler & F.G. Fowler, The King's English 124 (3d ed. 1931).
For a modern remnant of an absolute construction, see provided.
absolutely, in the sense "really" or "very much," is often a meaningless intensive. You should be absolutely ashamed of yourself is the sort of thing a parent might say when scolding a child, but in polished writing the word absolutely adds nothing of value to that sentence.
absolve, depending on the context, takes either of or from. One is absolved of financial liability and absolved from wrongdoing—assuming the authorities treat one kindly.
absorb; adsorb; sorb. Absorb is the common term meaning "to soak up"; adsorb is a scientific term that refers to the collecting of condensed gas (or similar substance) on a surface. Sorb is a relatively obscure term that embraces both of its prefixed siblings.
Abstractitis. "How vile a thing ... is the abstract noun! It wraps a man's thoughts round like cotton wool." Arthur QuillerCouch, On the Art of Writing 109 (2d ed. 1943). Abstractitis is Ernest Gowers's term for writing that is so abstract and obtuse (hence abstruse) that the writer does not even know what he or she is trying to say (MEU2 at 5). Far be it from the reader, then, to give such writing a coherent meaning.
One sympathizes with a keen judge who wrestled with the Internal Revenue Code: "[T]he words ... dance before my eyes in a meaningless procession: cross-reference to cross-reference, exception upon exception—couched in abstract terms that offer no handle to seize hold of—leave in my mind only a confused sense of some vitally important, but successfully concealed, purport, which it is my duty to extract, but which is within my power, if at all, only after the most inordinate expenditure of time." Learned Hand, "Thomas Walter Swan," 57 Yale L.J. 167, 169 (1947).
Perhaps the best antidote to this malady—which in some degree afflicts most sophisticated writers—is an active empathy for one's readers. Rigorous thought about concrete meaning, together with careful revision, can eliminate abstractitis.
An example from political science suffices to illustrate the malady:
Rosenau defines linkage as "any recurrent sequence of behavior that originates in one system and is reacted to in another." While there remains little doubt that such linkages exist, it has nevertheless been convenient for scholars of comparative and international politics to disregard or, to use the more contemporary term, to hold constant, factors in the other sphere. Thus, for the student of international politics, the nation functions in the international environment on the basis of the givens of that system, unrestrained by any domestic considerations. Differences existing between national systems are not considered crucial to an understanding of a nation's international behavior. This approach to international politics has been referred to as the "realist" school, and among its leading proponents is Hans J. Morgenthau. From the other perspective, the student of comparative politics feels that the international system is virtually irrelevant for purposes of explaining domestic political events. In both cases, this has led to a rather stultified approach. Situations arose in which the actions of a nation appeared to be "irrational," in that they could not be explained adequately on the basis of the conceptual tools of either of the two approaches.
It is to these types of problems that the emerging linkage politics approach addresses itself. The purpose of studying linkage politics is to gain a more complete understanding of events by taking account of a large number of variables that have a bearing on the ultimate behavior of a nation, whether this behavior be manifested in the domestic or international spheres. The adoption of such an approach does not imply that all previously unexplained phenomena now come within our grasp. It merely adds a new dimension to those phenomena already accounted for.
Jonathan Wilkenfeld, Introduction, Conflict Behavior & Linkage Politics 1 (1973).
This passage doesn't give any examples of the principles it discusses. It combines PASSIVE VOICE with JARGON. And it has many of the archetypal abstract words known as BURIED VERBS—that is, words ending with these suffixes: -tion, -sion, -ment, -ity, -ence, -ance. Writers are well advised to take these longish nouns and turn them back into verbs if possible—that is, write adopting, not the adoption of, and so on.
The Fowler brothers quote the following sentence—laden with buried verbs—in The King's English (1906): "One of the most important reforms mentioned in the rescript is the unification of the organization of judicial institutions and the guarantee for all the tribunals of the independence necessary for securing to all classes of the community equality before the law" (42 words). Arthur Quiller-Couch's revision eliminates the buried verbs: "One of the most important reforms is that of the courts, which need to be independent within a uniform structure. In this way only can people be assured that all are equal before the law" (35 words). On the Art of Writing 109-10 (2d ed. 1943). But the following revision is even better: "One of the most important reforms is to unify the courts to guarantee their independence and thus the equality of all people before the law" (25 words).
By some accounts, abstractitis leads to far worse things. "If concepts are not clear," wrote Confucius, "words do not fit." But he did not stop there: "If words do not fit, the day's work cannot be accomplished, morals and art do not flourish. If morals and art do not flourish, punishments are not just. If punishments are not just, the people do not know where to put hand or foot." Confucius, Analects XIII, 3. When we descend into abstractitis, more than just our language is afflicted.
Fred Rodell, a Yale law professor, realist, and semanticist who frequently criticized lawyers' language, issued his own inimitable warning about abstractitis: "Dealing in words is a dangerous business, and it cannot be too often stressed that what The Law deals in is words. Dealing in long, vague, fuzzy-meaning words is even more dangerous business, and most of the words The Law deals in are long and vague and fuzzy. Making a habit of applying long, vague, fuzzy, general words to specific things and facts is perhaps the most dangerous of all, and The Law does that, too." Fred Rodell, Woe Unto You, Lawyers! 39 (1939; repr. 1980).
Abstract Nouns, Plurals Of. See PLURALS (I).
abstractor; abstracter. The OED notes that -or is "analogically the more regular form"; it is the more usual as well. See -ER (A).
abysm(al); abyss(al). Both nouns signify "a bottomless gulf." Abyss is the more current and is therefore to be preferred. Though abysm is obsolescent, abysmal thrives (indeed, has become trite) as a figurative term for "deep" or "immeasurably great" (W3) <abysmal ignorance>. Abyssal is a technical oceanographic term <the geology of the abyssal deep>.
academically. So spelled—not academicly E.g.: "The goal of the strategic plan is to keep the university competitive economically and academicly [read academically] by the year 2005, the release states." Frank Mastin Jr., "84 Employees Lose Their Jobs at Tuskegee University," Montgomery Advertiser, 2 Oct. 1997, at 2C.
a cappella (= [of singing] not accompanied by instrumental music) is sometimes misspelled a capella—e.g.: "Sarah Waltman and Lenore Lopez, both of Blue Island, were in the audience at Cafe Luna on the night when Yaseen made her a capella [read a cappella debut." Annemarie Mannion, "Instant Stardom," Chicago Trib., 17 Aug. 1997, Tempo Southwest §, at 1. It's also wrong to spell the term as one word.
accede; exceed. Accede, v.i., = (1) "to agree or consent"; (2) "to come into office or a position of stature"; or (3) "to enter a treaty or accord." It takes the preposition to. Exceed, v.t., means (1) "to surpass," or (2) "to go beyond the proper limits." The first syllable of accede should be pronounced with a short a-, so as to differentiate its sound from exceed.
Occasionally exceed is misused for accede (sense 1)—e.g.: "Eighty potential jurors filed into the Santa Clara County superior court chambers of Judge Charles Hastings after he, exceeding [read acceding] to the wishes of Davis' attorneys, instructed Joel and B.J. Klaas, the slain girl's grandparents, to remove the memorial buttons from their lapels." Michael Dougan, "Judge Orders Removal of Polly Klaas Buttons," S.F. Examiner, 14 Feb. 1996, at A2.
accent, v.t.; accentuate. These synonyms have a good latent distinction. H.W. Fowler noted that accent is more common in literal senses, accentuate in figurative senses (MEU1 at 7). Hence one properly accents the second syllable of the word insurance, but accentuates the advantages of buying life insurance from a reputable company.
ACCENT MARKS. See DIACRITICAL MARKS.
acceptance; acceptancy; acceptation; acception. Acceptance expresses the active sense of the verb (to accept), and acceptation expresses the passive sense (to be accepted). The other two are NEEDLESS VARIANTS.
Acceptance, the broadest term, means act of accepting" <Williams's acceptance of the award was delayed>. Acceptation =(1) the state of being accepted <widespread acceptation of the doctrine of strict liability in tort was long in coming>; or (2) a generally accepted meaning (of a word, phrase, or document) <the word "presently" in its modern acceptation>. Sense 2 is more common today—e.g.: "[T]he Constitution's `commerce clause,' ... in its original acceptation, had merely granted Congress limited authority over the regulation of interstate commerce ...." Wilfred M. McClay, "A More Perfect Union? Toward a New Federalism," Commentary, Sept. 1995, at 28.
access, n. A. Confused with excess. Excess (=  an overabundance, superfluity; or  the amount by which one thing exceeds another) is sometimes confused with access (= a means of reaching or getting in)—e.g.: "At the time, the real estate concern was losing in access [read excess] of $1 million annually.... " Jeannie Smith, "Latter & Blum's 2nd B.R. Foray," Greater Baton Rouge Bus. Rep., 13 June 1995, at 35./ "The final figure for 1996 would have been in access [read excess] of $100 million if `bookings' late in the year were taken into account, he says." Dave King, "Compaq Closing Fast on Main Opponents," Dominion (Wellington), 5 Feb. 1996, at 5.
B. Meaning "fit" or "outburst." This sense, though somewhat archaic, is unimpeachable. Still, the usage is likely to give some readers pause—e.g.:
* "In an access [better: outburst] of unbridled enthusiasm, he hangs by his heels from a Calder sculpture while crooning `La donna e mobile.'" Donal Henahan, "A New Wave Director Goes to Work on `Rigalotto,'" N.Y. Times, 8 Sept. 1985, § 2, at 31.
* "[H]is 90-year-old wife, Ellen, battered by years of strokes, knocked him down in a sudden access [better: fit] of wild rage, and wandered out of the house in her nightgown." Pearl K. Bell, "The Other Side," New Republic, 18 Dec. 1989, at 39.
* "Small Chinese gardens (often called Anglo-Chinois) cropped up all over France and Belgium, including one built, in an access [better: outburst or excess] of romantic enthusiasm, on top of the ruins of an ancient Roman wall." Charles Elliot, "Dragons at the Gate," Horticulture, June 1995, at 19.
access, vb. A. Generally. As a verb, access has its origins in COMPUTERESE. Like a number of nouns turned into verbs (e.g., contact), it now seems increasingly well ensconced in the language. As Ernest Gowers said about contact, it is an ancient and valuable right of English-speaking peoples to turn their nouns into verbs when they are so minded (MEU2 at 108). Gain access to or some other such equivalent is admittedly ungainly alongside access.
But outside computing and electronic contexts, using access as a verb still jars sensitive ears. Avoid the verb if there's a ready substitute—e.g.: "The residents had bypassed utility meters and were accessing [read getting] free gas, water, electricity and cable television, deputies said." "Man, Mom Arrested in Child Endangering Case," Press-Enterprise (Riverside, Cal.), 4 Dec. 1996, at B3./ "There are now over 130 miles of converted trails in New York, all easily accessed [read accessible] by, what else, train." "Best of the Net," Village Voice, 21 Jan. 1997, at 25.
B. For assess. Sometimes access is misused for assess (= to evaluate)—e.g.: "They track hundreds of trends, looking for connections and accessing [read assessing] the implications of major socio-economic and political events." Siona Carpenter, "Turning Point," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 14 Jan. 1997, at F1.
accessible. So spelled—not accessable. See -ABLE (A).
accession = (1) a coming into possession of an office or right; (2) acquisition of (something connected to one's property) by growth, labor, or the like; or (3) a secondary or subordinate thing that is connected with another thing. The word is pronounced/ak-se-shen/, not/e-se-shen/.
accessory, n. A. And accessary, n. Accessory now predominates in AmE and BrE in meaning both "abettor" and "a thing of lesser importance." Though H.W. Fowler championed a distinction between accessory and accessary (the first applying primarily to things, the second to persons [MEU1 at 8]), accessary is now merely a NEEDLESS VARIANT and should be avoided.
B. Pronunciation. Accessory should be pronounced with the first -c- as a hard -k-: /ak-ses-e-ree/. A common mispronunciation is /e-ses-e-ree/. Cf. flaccid & succinct.
accidentally. So spelled. Accidently is a solecism—e.g.: "Big mistake—I accidently [read accidentally] turned on a full blast of icy water, [and] Debbie let out a bone-chilling yowl." Bob Puhala, "Kohler's `Club' Cool Spot for Winter Whirl," Chicago Sun-Times, 15 Jan. 1995, Travel §, at 4. Big mistake indeed. The confusion arises partly from the popular pronunciation, partly from seemingly analogous terms such as evidently and inadvertently. Cf. incidentally.
acclimate; acclimatize. Although the -ize form is preferred by H.W. Fowler and other BrE authorities, the shorter form—which actually predates the longer—is now standard in AmE. Some American dictionaries put the primary definition under acclimatize /e-klI-me-tIz/, but few Americans use this term; the main term is acclimate /ak-le-mayt/. The corresponding nouns are acclimation /ak-le-may-shen/ in AmE and acclimatization /e-klI-me-ti-zay-shen/ in BrE. See -IZE.
accommodable. So formed—not accommodatable, as it is sometimes erroneously written. E.g.: "Ford [cites as the company's values] persistence, understanding business etiquette, and a demand in the industry to know the client's needs and deliver them in a concise, accommodatable [read accommodable] manner.... "Andrea Akins, "New Agency's Successes on the Fast Track So Far," Nashville Bus. J., 21 June 1993, at 35. See -ATABLE.
accommodate is one of the most frequently misspelled words in the language. See SPELLING (A).
accompanied takes by, not with—e.g.: "A ripe fresh fig is so intensely sweet and rich it should be either eaten out of hand or sliced in half and accompanied with [read accompanied by] no more than a small scoop of ice cream...." "Giving a Fig About This Fresh Fruit," Times Union (Albany), 24 Dec. 1997, at D10./ "The book, inspired by his No. 1 song `Butterfly Kisses,' features pictures of various fathers and daughters accompanied with [read accompanied by] short essays on growing up together." "Features, Books, Religious Bestsellers," Christian Science Monitor, 24 Dec. 1997, at 15.
Accompanied by, like together with and along with, does not make a singular subject compound (hence plural) because it merely introduces a prepositional phrase. See SUBJECT—VERB AGREEMENT (E).
accompaniment is so spelled—not accompanyment. E.g.: "Ending his set with a shimmering 12-string guitar accompanyment [read accompaniment] to his first hit `Part of the Plan,' Fogelberg returned for a one-song encore...." Jack Leaver, "Fogelberg Revisits Good Years, to Hearers' Delight," Grand Rapids Press, 22 June 1997, at B7.
accompanist/e-kem-pe-nist/ is the standard form, not accompanyist (falsely formed from accompany)—e.g.: "Paxton was in wonderful form, and accompanyist [read accompanist] Eric Weissberg added just enough instrumental firepower on guitar and dobro to lend the songs some spark...." Greg Haymes, "Tom Paxton Shows He's Still at Top of His Song-writing Game," Times Union (Albany), 28 Mar. 1994, at C4.
accord; accordance. To be in accord is to be in agreement. E.g.: "The church agrees that Mary's message at those places is in accord with Catholic teaching and devotion." Steve Gushee, "For Many, Seeing Is Believing," Palm Beach Post, 17 Jan. 1997, at 1F.
To be in accordance is to be in conformity or compliance. Though sometimes cumbersome, the phrase is indisputably useful—e.g.: "[S]upporters of comprehensive sex ed are preparing to bring the battle to the states, compiling information detailing the least harmful way to design programs in accordance with the newly laid out federal standards." Clare Saliba, "Just Say No," Village Voice, 21 Jan. 1997, at 2. Certainly that wording is preferable to the legalistic phrase pursuant to. (See pursuant to.) But much depends on the precise phrase. For example, in accordance with your request is always stilted. Instead, write as you requested.
Accord is sometimes wrongly used for accordance—e.g.: "Justice Marcos Aburto of the Supreme Court felt compelled to say that a decision would be made in accord [read in accordance] with the law and would not be influenced by outside pressure." Calvin Sims, "Case of '76 U.S. Assassination Reaching Final Stage in Chile," N.Y. Times, 15 May 1995 at A9./ "[A]n outside auditor [will] determine whether ... the payments were disbursed in accord [read in accordance] with state law and local policy." "Hasty No-Bid Decision or Snap Just One Troubling Aspect of Deal," Sun-Sentinel (Ft. Lauderdale), 21 Dec. 1996 at 14A.
accord, v.t. A. And afford. These words share the meaning "to furnish or grant" <accorded (or afforded) all the respect due him>. Yet some DIFFERENTIATION is possible: accord has the nuance of granting something because it is suitable or proper <some 269 charter schools in 25 states have been accorded the freedom to do what is in their students best interests>. Afford, in contrast, is the more general term meaning "to furnish (something) out of kindness, goodwill, or competitive strategy" <the airline afforded free upgrades to its most frequent fliers>.
B. Construing with Prepositions. Intransitively, accord takes the preposition in, to, or with, depending on the context <we accord in our opinions> <we accord to plaintiff his due> <this accords with the prevailing view>.
according. A. According to. This phrase means (1) "depending on"; (2) "as explained or reported by (a person)"; or (3) "in accordance with." In sense 2, the phrase is a weak form of attribution <according to Barbara Tuchman, ...>; a text sprinkled with according to's gives the appearance of having little originality. Use the phrase sparingly.
B. According as. This phrase, which has an antique literary flavor, means "in a manner corresponding to the way in which; just as." The phrase appears throughout the King James Version of the Bible—e.g.: "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." Revelation 22:12. In modern prose it is an ARCHAISM—e.g.: "Indiana schoolchildren will or will not learn to read and to write according as they are taught by their teachers and prodded by their parents." William F. Buckley, "What Has Caused the Gender Gap at the Polls?" Las Vegas Rev.-J., 5 Nov. 1996, at 11B.
C. As a Dangler. For according as an acceptable dangling modifier, see DANGLERS (E).
accordingly = (1) consequently, therefore <they were caught red-handed; accordingly, they were summarily fired>; or (2) in a corresponding or appropriate manner <they'll be dealt with accordingly>.
accost (= to approach and usu. to speak to in an abrupt or challenging manner) has historically had no connotations of physical contact. Hence it would traditionally be considered inappropriate in cases of physical violence—e.g.: "The victim, who was accosted [read assaulted] as he left the bar with three women, suffered scrapes and bruises." "Police Beat," Capital (Annapolis), 24 Aug. 1996, at A11. Accost simply isn't a strong enough word for that context; assault (in the popular sense) would have served better. Cf. altercation.
Finally, accost isn't the right verb for what a threatening animal does—e.g.: "Two months later, a trio of yelping pit bull puppies accosted [read attacked] Waters in the basement of an apartment building." William Gaines & Laurie Cohen, "Workers' Comp Puts City on Injured List," Chicago Trib., 12 Jan. 1997, at C1.
accounting. See bookkeeping & generally accepted accounting principles.
accouterments; accoutrements. As with many other words, the -er is AmE, the -re BrE. The same is true of the verb forms: accouter (AmE) and accoutre (BrE). See -ER (A).
accredit is the verb corresponding to the noun accreditation. But recently accreditate, a BACK-FORMATION from accreditation, has arisen as a NEEDLESS VARIANT—e.g.: "The laboratory, on the second floor of the sheriff's Wheaton office, is one of 77 accreditated [read accredited] facilities in the country...." Art Barnum, "Du Page Crime Lab Wins National Accreditation," Chicago Trib., 13 Mar. 1991, at D9.
accrual; accruement. The latter is a NEEDLESS VARIANT.
accumulable. So formed—not accumulatable. See -ATABLE.
accumulate; accumulative; cumulate; cumulative. Accumulate is far more common than cumulate as the transitive verb meaning "to pile up, collect." Cumulate should therefore be avoided as a NEEDLESS VARIANT. Accumulate has the additional intransitive sense "to increase."
The adjectives demonstrate more palpable DIFFERENTIATION. In one sense they are synonymous: "increasing by successive addition," in which meaning cumulative is the usual and therefore the preferred term. Accumulative = acquisitive; inclined to amass. It would be salutary to strengthen this distinction.
accusatory; accusatorial; accusative. Accusatory (= accusing; of the nature of an accusation) is occasionally confused with accusatorial (= of or relating to a criminal-law system in which the prosecution and the defense put forward their claims before an independent decision-maker). E.g.: "Before she could utter an accusatorial [read accusatory] word, Stella said, `I know what you're thinking and the answer is no.'" Max Haines, "A Bitter Pill to Swallow," Toronto Sun, 31 Dec. 1995, at 42.
Accusative should be restricted to its grammatical sense, i.e., the case that marks the direct object of a verb or the object of certain prepositions. But it's sometimes used incorrectly in the place of accusatory—e.g.: "Adopting an accusative [read accusatory] tabloid-TV style, the ad shows the Washington apartment of a lobbying firm where Kerry stayed intermittently over a period of months in 1989." Frank Phillips, "Weld Calls a Truce on Attack Ads," Boston Globe, 26 Oct. 1996, at A1.
accuse; charge. One is accused of, but charged with, a crime. Perhaps under the influence of charged with, the verb accused is sometimes unidiomatically paired with with—e.g.: "Ross and Vince Fera, Local 57's recording secretary and a member of its executive board, were accused with [read accused of] violating the union's code of ethics...." Jim McKay, "Monitor Accuses Union of Crime Ties," Pitt. Post-Gaz., 25 Nov. 1997, at F1. See charge (A).
|List of Essay Entries,||xix|
|List of Abbreviations,||xxv|
|A Timeline of Books on Usage,||709|
One perennial question emerges when people ask about grammar: "What grammar book do you recommend?" What the person really wants isn't a grammar at all, but a good dictionary of usage. This underappreciated genre has alphabetical listings of all the most common trouble spots in the language. It's partly grammar ("fused participles"), partly word choice ("self-deprecating" vs. "self-depreciating"), and sometimes a mixture of the two ("It's me" vs. "It's I"). There are dozens of essays on subjects as diverse as Airlinese, Jargon, Punctuation, and Subject-Verb Agreement.
The language is shifting under your very tongue in ways that might surprise you. A Dictionary of Modern American Usage is intended to divert and entertain while providing guidance on where to stand if you want to avoid linguistic fault lines. My guidance is a blend of the traditional and the modern. I favor keeping our continuity with the past without letting the language become petrified. And I try to be down-to-earth. So forget "It's I."
How did I get into this?
At the age of 15, I realized that the use of the English language was my main intellectual interest. That being so, David Foster Wallace says in Harper's magazine that I must have been "repeatedly and savagely wedgied" as a teenager. Not so -- though I take his point. Actually, I kept my long forays to the college library a little secret within the family and still lettered in golf, led the high school band as drum major, and acted in school plays. By my junior year, when I had acquired the habit of occasionally using big words ("epizeuxis" and "ignoratio elenchi" were among my favorites), I was too big for the kind of abuse Wallace imagines. It took a few more years for me to outgrow this annoying habit of using big words, but in the meantime I worked assiduously to build my vocabulary.
And I had discovered my favorite literary genre: the dictionary of usage. H. W. Fowler, Wilson Follett, Theodore Bernstein, and Eric Partridge had become my literary heroes. By the time I was ready for college, I had essentially memorized everything that these writers had said about English usage -- in the same way that other kids memorize sports stats or car models. Not just any linguistic facts interested me: They had to be genuinely useful facts. They had to help me (or anyone) write better.
In college, studying liberal arts at the University of Texas, I was drawn to courses on literature, rhetoric, literary criticism, and the history of the English language. My plan was still, as it had been in high school, to become a lawyer and use my rhetorical skills within the law. But my success in publishing articles on Shakespearean language -- and the encouragement of my undergraduate mentors, the Shakespearean specialist John W. Velz and the linguistic historian Thomas Cable -- led me to flirt with pursuing a Ph.D. in English, with a focus on lexicography. I almost went that route.
But no. My fiancée (now my wife), a graduate student in political science, said she was convinced that I was meant to be a lawyer -- not an English professor. I agreed. When law school began, I was immediately struck by how many archaic phrases -- Elizabethan phrases -- were popping up in the judicial decisions I was reading. I went to the library to see what scholars had written about legal language, found very little to my liking, and immediately decided to write a book about legal language. Within the first week of law school, I had named it A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage. I wanted it to do for lawyers what H. W. Fowler had done for writers at large.
I ended up founding LawProse, Inc., which provides seminars for lawyers on brief writing and contract drafting. I wrote or edited more books on law and language, most notably The Elements of Legal Style and Black's Law Dictionary. I've now produced four editions of Black's -- the unabridged deluxe, the regular unabridged, the abridged, and the pocket. My whole approach to legal lexicography has been to try to make the law as accessible as possible to everyone -- to persuade lawyers that it's not in their best interests to use highfalutin jargon and gobbledygook. After all, avoiding these bad habits promotes clear thinking.
But my first love is the English language -- not just the legal part of the English language. So when Oxford asked me to write a dictionary of American usage, I was delighted at the prospect of broadening my horizons and dealing with the English language as a whole. Since I was following Fowler's model, I called it A Dictionary of Modern American Usage. The idea was to provide a guide for educated Americans who want an answer to the question, "Can I say this and still have credibility with readers and listeners?" My intended readers, quite simply, are educated people -- students, businesspeople, professors, novelists, nonfiction writers, newscasters, you name it -- who want authoritative guidance on where the language stands today.
"May I split an infinitive?" (Yes, but first you really need to know what one is.) "May I split a verb phrase?" (You'd better: Any other placement is awkward. And grammarians have consistently said -- there's a split!-- this since 1782!) "May I end a sentence with a preposition?" (If you want to. I have a two-page essay on the subject.) "Should I use the serial comma?" (Yes, unless you're a journalist.) On and on the questions go. My rulings -- since I'm playing the role of judge -- add up to a kind of linguistic jurisprudence. Like any judge, I have biases. Mine are in favor of clarity, simplicity, and credibility. (Bryan A. Garner)
Posted November 1, 2000
Garner¿s usage dictionary is filled with sensible advice. It is refreshingly unpedantic. Writers in every specialty will find it helpful. One limitation, however, is that Garner draws his examples mostly from journalistic or legal sources. On balance, I prefer Merriam-Webster¿s Dictionary of English Usage for its better treatment of historical usage issues and wider representation of literary and academic examples.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.