Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Ins and Outs of Pre-Natal Drunkenness

Today on Slate, Emily Oster makes the case for drinking while pregnant. No, seriously.

I'm not about to get all judgemental about her pre-natal quaffing choices--lord knows if I were a pregnant woman I would find it hard not to take a few pulls at the Shiraz teat--but I will take issue with some of her word choices.

For instance, we have the paragraph that begins:
I reviewed many, many studies, but I focused in on ones that compare women who drank lightly or occasionally during pregnancy to those who abstained. 
I'll forgive the double "many" in the interests of poetic licence, but what does the word "in" accomplish in this sentence? Granted, "focused on" doesn't exactly sing, but it does have the virtue of concision. The "in" should be discarded like a moldy cork.

Further on in the paragraph, we come to this sentence:
With these parameters, we can really hone in on the question of interest: What is the impact of having an occasional drink, assuming that you never overdo it?  
Here we get reacquainted with one of the first inductees into the copyeditor's Hall of Errors. To "hone" is to sharpen. The shopworn term the author was reaching for here is "home in on." Of course, there are a number of people who will claim that "hone in on," by virtue of common mis-usage, is now an acceptable alternative. These people, for the most part, have dents in their foreheads and had mothers who drank while pregnant.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pleading the Case for "Pleaded"

Performer/loathsome cretin Chris Brown is in the news again. According to a piece on The Daily Beast he suffered a seizure a few days ago, brought on by (according to his publicist) the "stress and non-stop negativity" he has to endure from people who refer to him as a loathsome cretin.

The story goes on to say that:
 Brown has been on felony probation since he plead guilty in 2009 to beating his girlfriend, Rihanna. Since then, he has been in and out of court, most recently having his probation revoked after a May 12 hit-and-run case.

When you are looking for the past tense of "to plead" there are three ways to go, and for my money this is the least attractive option. According to lawyer/word nerd Bryan Garner, author of the estimable A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, 
"The best course is to treat plead as a weak verb, so that the correct past tense, as well as past participle, is pleaded."  
The Columbia Journalism Review seems to agree, while noting that pled has its supporters, too. The author of this article points out that we don't say "he pled for his life" we say "pleaded." But we don't say "readed" or "speeded," counters a crafty "pled"-loving lawyer he quotes.

In the end however, the author delivers the verdict:

There may be room for argument, and “pled” may gaining [sic]. It is certainly not irrational for the ear to prefer it to “pleaded.” But the strong preference here, and clearly the safer course in American journalistic writing early in the 21 st century, remains “pleaded.”

Now, as it turns out "plead" is an alternative past tense option in the language, but it is "alternative" in the way a talentless garage band is. It's just never seen in credible legal circles. Nobody but a loathsome cretin would use it.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

How Many Clicks Will I Get if I use the Title "Whale Bone Porn"?

A local mom named Ann Pimentel is having conniptions about an exhibit she and her children were scandalized by at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. The specimens in the display in question are examples of "scrimshaw"--etchings made on (in this case) whale bones and teeth. Rather saucy engravings they are, too, showing boobies and kissing and everything.

Even though the display was elevated out of sight of impressionable young eyes and was accompanied by a "for mature audiences only" disclaimer, it seems Ms. Pimentel, president of the League of Perpetually Outraged Citizens, was outraged. Describing herself as "extremely disturbed" (which is doubtlessly true), she felt compelled to alert the internet and other media.

According to this story,
Ms. Pimentel told the Vancouver Sun that her two small children — aged two and three — were needlessly exposed to the disturbing “whale bone porn.” No advance warnings were made to sensitive patrons outside the display room, she complained.
I had barely recovered from being introduced to the term "whale bone porn" when I came across another extremely disturbing story, this time in Slate. In a piece called Six Ways to Avoid the Classic "Broken Bottle Scam," I learned that certain aggressive hobo-types in New York have been perfecting a ruse whereby they bump into unsuspecting passersby and then accuse them of breaking a bottle--ostensibly filled with an expensive "medicine"--and bullying them into ponying up some coin for the "loss."

Stratagem Number Five on the author's mostly tongue-in-cheek list of ways of dealing with this scam begins:
Carry around your own bag of bottles. OK, this one might not be the most realistic idea, and it definitely requires some advance planning, but I can’t think of a better way to confound a bottle trickster than by dropping your own bag upon contact and demanding that he reimburse you.
The problem in each of these excerpts is that the word "advance" should be charged with loitering. It serves no purpose in either sentence other than to take up syllables. Warnings and planning must always, by definition, be done in advance, so I hereby rule that the word be stricken from the record.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll get back to watching some whale bone porn.