Media Watch



The following are less-than-exemplary snippets from recent newspapers and magazines …

• “The suspect was linked to at least nine different bank robberies.”

Why not just “nine bank robberies”? It would be interesting to know what compelled the writer to add “different.” However, this sentence is not a total loss; it could be shown to youngsters to illustrate the meaning of superfluous.

• “Each has spent their adult lives demeaning and scapegoating.”

This abject sentence could not exist if the writer or his editor had been paying attention. Each is a singular pronoun, and we know the writer knew that, because he wrote “has” rather than the plural “have.” But after the first two words, he got distracted and started writing plurals (“their,” “lives”). The fix is simple: “All have spent their adult lives demeaning and scapegoating.”

• “The company has never been reticent to send promotional missives.”

Reticent is not a fancy synonym for reluctant, as this sentence’s author seems to believe. Reticent traditionally means “silent” or “uncommunicative.” That doesn’t fit here. Still, reticent to is now inescapable, and some authorities consider it acceptable. We consider it an affectation.

• “Brown grew up in a poor, predominately black neighborhood.”

Sometimes writers mistakenly use predominately as an alternative to predominantly, meaning “chiefly, primarily.” Although predominately is technically a word, it’s not easy to pinpoint what it means.

• “Fake it ’til you make it.”
• “And the party rocked on ’til sunrise.”
• “On politically correct language: don’t knock it ’til you try it.”

We see such sentences constantly, but here’s some sound advice: always use till. Many assume that ’til, a contraction of until, is correct. However, till predates until by several centuries, and you won’t find a reference book anywhere that endorses ’til. The writer John B. Bremner declares brusquely, “Either till or until, but not ’til.”

• “At the same time, as other Americans of faith, the majority also identify strongly with their religion.”
• “The enemy wore Army green, just like she did.”

The proper use of as and like continues to elude many writers. In formal writing, both of the above sentences are incorrect. In the first example, make it “like other Americans of faith.” As would be correct only if a verb were involved, e.g., “as other Americans of faith do.” Like is a preposition meaning “similar to” or “typical of,” and that’s what is needed here.

In the second example, the verb “did” in “just like she did” means like is the wrong choice—just similar to she did is clearly nonsense. Use as instead, and make it “just as she did.”

General rule: Use like when it is followed by a noun but no verb: Do it like me. But replace like with as, as if, as though, or the way preceding subject-verb constructions: Do it the way [not like] I taught you. Do it as if [not like] you meant it.

 

Pop Quiz

The following are sentences recently heard over the airwaves. See if you can make them better.

  1. “He is trying to appeal to both sides, and neither of them are going to be satisfied.”
  2. “There’ll be some upheaval in the market irregardless of who wins.”
  3. “He is relishing in the American dream.”
  4. “It looked as though they just laid down.”
  5. “Clinton vies for support in newly-competitive red states.” (TV graphic)

 

Pop Quiz Answers

  1. “He is trying to appeal to both sides, and neither of them is going to be satisfied.”
  2. “There’ll be some upheaval in the market regardless of who wins.”
  3. “He is reveling in the American dream.”
  4. “It looked as though they just lay down.”
  5. “Clinton vies for support in newly competitive red states.” (do not hyphenate adverbs ending in ly)

Posted on Monday, August 15, 2016, at 5:26 pm

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13 Comments on Media Watch

13 responses to “Media Watch”

  1. Andy M. says:

    “The company has never been reticent to send promotional missives.”

    Really? I know that some hold that corporations are people, but I object to anthropomorphizing them.

  2. Doug C. says:

    This week’s newsletter was particularly interesting. I do have two questions.

    First, in this sentence, “At the same time, as other Americans of faith, the majority also identify strongly with their religion,” please comment on whether the verb should be singular (“identifies”).

    Second, in this sentence, why is “me” the correct pronoun? General rule: Use like when it is followed by a noun but no verb: Do it like me.

    (The sentence seems to mean “Do it like I (do)”. I also recognize, based on the newsletter, that “as” would be better than “like” in this modified sentence. Perhaps “Do it like me” is not a good example of the correct usage of “like”?)

    • If you wrote “identifies,” you would then have to write the awkward phrase “its religion.” Collective nouns such as majority may be singular or plural, depending on context.

      Like is a preposition, not a conjunction, at least as far as traditional grammar is concerned. Therefore, me is required in do it like me because the object pronoun me is the object of the preposition like. We think do it like me is a fine example of correct usage, because like may mean “similarly to” in addition to “similar to.”

  3. Doug C. says:

    Thank you for this explanation.

    Which pronoun is appropriate in an “other than ___” formation, such as, “You would never have sent such a letter to a person other than I/me?”

    • Some authorities regard than as a preposition as well as a conjunction, e.g., she’s the best choice, other than him. Some purists disagree. This is one area where careful writers using good sense are the best judge.

  4. Andy M says:

    I’d just like to add my latest least favorite phrases:

    “…an event that changed their lives forever.” How does the word forever add to the meaning? I always wonder if the speaker is clairvoyant.

    “…and that is our plan going forward.” Again a vacuous phrase, one often I hear in business communication. It makes my teeth hurt.

    I feel better; I just needed to vent. Thank you.

  5. John says:

    What is the rule of English that would determine which of these phrases is most correct … “10 minutes more” or “10 more minutes”?

    Thank You

    JW

    • We would need to see the phrase used in a complete sentence, along with the context in which it is used, in order to make a determination. There may be no particular rule governing this word order other than how it sounds to you.

  6. Lilian S. says:

    I have a problem with the subject-verb agreement with this sentence:

    Lurking under the river are semi-aquatic reptiles with long tails, well-amored bodies and massive jaws that could crush their prey easily – yes, we are talking about crocodiles.

    The sentence above is from a story about how crocodiles are terrifying villages. Is the subject-verb agreement correct?

    Thanks

  7. olami says:

    concerning what Lilian S. said, “… their prey easily” .Shouldn’t it be “preys” rather than “prey” since we are talking about crocodiles.

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