More Mangled Language and Pompous Usages to Avoid

Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2018, at 11:00 pm

This column is mostly concerned about the written word, but even so, pronunciation will inevitably enter the picture from time to time.

The expressions chomping at the bit and stomping ground are both corruptions of the original champing and stamping. People find this incredible. But, for instance, consult the 1961 cult-favorite western film One-Eyed Jacks, and you’ll hear Marlon Brando clearly say, “I know all his old stampin’ grounds.” My 1968 Random House dictionary and my 1980 American Heritage dictionary (the one with its own usage panel) don’t even list stomping ground, only stamping. Nor do they list chomping at the bit, only champing.

My 1999 Webster’s lists both, but Webster’s is more permissive by design; it’s what’s called a descriptive dictionary, as opposed to prescriptive ones like American Heritage, which presume, unlike Webster’s, to act as guardians of proper English.

Here are some more words and phrases that make word nerds wince:

Kudos  To this great man, kudos are overdue. That’s not a sentence that would raise many eyebrows, but kudos is not the plural of kudo. There’s no such thing as a kudo. Kudos is a Greek word (pronounced KYOO-doss or KOO-doss) meaning praise or glory, and you’d no more say kudos are due than you’d say glory are due. You must change are to is: kudos is overdue. Of course, if you ever said that, everybody’d think you’re strange—everybody but that word nerd skulking in the corner.

Snuck  A lot of people these days think this is the legitimate past tense of sneak. A lot of people are wrong. The past tense of sneak is sneaked. Even my Webster’s has a problem with snuck, calling it “informal.”

Flaunt, flout  He was a rebel who flaunted the rules. Make that flouted. To flaunt is to display ostentatiously; to flout is to ignore, disregard. Don’t flaunt your ignorance by flouting the correct usage of flout.

Close proximity  Also commonly used by a lot of smart folks who should know better. There is a creek in close proximity to the cabin. This is ill-advised for a number of reasons. First, proximity already means “closeness,” so the phrase is redundant: “close closeness.” And this is just an affected way of disdaining nice clear words like near, nearby, et al. What’s wrong with “There’s a creek near the cabin”? Word nerds believe that the fewer words and syllables it takes to get your point across, the better a writer you’ll be.

More importantly, most importantly  When grammatical cluelessness combines with a desire to sound glib, we get maddening phrases like these two. I’ve been a pedantic prig, er, copy editor, a long time and I’ve never seen a valid use of more or most importantly. Just drop the -ly and make my day. More important, you’ll be using good English. Most important, you won’t sound like some pseudo-scholarly fusspot.

This grammar tip is by our late copy editor and word nerd Tom Stern.

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