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Brush Up Your Webster

A Special Education Feature of BBHQ


Does it annoy you when you see people interviewed on television who sound like they never made it past the third grade? Oh, and it is not just the kids. You should see the spelling errors in the mail we receive. Whew!

“Brush Up Your Webster” is a compilation of tips on spelling, punctuation, grammar and word usage. We offer a tip regularly in our newsletter. Here is a whole bunch of them. (The most recent ones are near the end.)

Our first offering is "lie" versus "lay." This oversimplifies it a bit, but about all you have to remember is this:

"Chickens lay eggs; people lie down."

It all depends on how you use the word. You tell your dog to "lie down"; you lay your book on the table. Chickens lay eggs; people lie down. Simple.

A BBHQ Pop Quiz: From the BBHQ Lyrics You Know You Know collection:
      Trees... swayin’ in the summer breeze
     Showin’ off their silver leaves
     As we walked by
     Soffffft... kisses on a summer’s day
     Laughing all our cares away
     Just _____________________.

Your final answer is....

Our favorite quote from last week comes from a witness to a traffic accident. She was interviewed on TV; I saw the video:

"I seen the cops knockin' the window out. And, I thought they was givin' the man UPS. I thought the man was dead. That's the way it was."

"UPS." They was givin' the man UPS! Really, folks; I swear, I could not make that up. Embarrassing, isn't it?

But this tip is more mundane; it's a punctuation issue. This one is one of the most common punctuation errors. And yet, it's so simple. There are no exceptions, no variations; this is it:

Periods and commas go inside quotation marks.

Trust me on this one, friends. I have a bowl full of nickels I have collected from bets with people far more certain than you that I was wrong. And yes, I know that you folks across the pond do it differently. But that's there. Here, periods and commas go inside quotation marks.

I abbreviate it this way: PACGIQM.

This tip involves the misuse -- the over-use of the word "literally." By the book, it means "in a literal sense." (actual: being or reflecting the essential or genuine character of something.) Most often, and more recently, it has been mis-used to add emphasis or excitement: "literally" as opposed to "figuratively," as in, "I was literally blown away."

Well, no; unless the wind picked you up and carried you down the road, you were not "literally blown away."

On Saturday morning, NBC "Today Show" host and news dudette Campbell Brown announced,

"I will literally be all ears in our next hour."

(She was getting her ears pierced.) I don't think so. I watched; she had arms and legs, and all that other stuff, too.

She is getting paid big bucks for that kind of carelessness. She should know better.

Now, you do, even if she does not.

"[The rise in real estate values] has literally turned your house into an A.T.M. in the last couple of years,' said Carl Steidtmann, chief economist at Deloitte Research. 'That will virtually go away.' "--New York Times, Dec. 29

“The federal government is quite literally falling asleep at the switch when it comes to protecting our communities from deadly train derailments.” —Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Neal Boortz is a recovering lawyer, radio talk show host, and now... an author... but not a very good writer. Promoting his newest book, last week he posted on his web site, "Possibly as many as 700+ people turned out at a local Barnes & Noble to have Congressman Linder and I sign their books."

Ouch! Made my ears hurt!

"To have Congressman Linder and I sign their books."!!!

(Never mind "turned out." We'll get to that another time.)

This one is simple, folks. Take out the "Congressman Linder," and what have you got?

"...people turned out... to have I sign their books."

Surely you can tell that is not right. So, when you add "Congressman Linder and" to the sentence, why would you change the obviously correct "me" to "I"? Only because you were not taught well, that's why.

So that's always the simple test: remove the first part(s) of the compound subject (or object) and see what is left.

Obviously that was not a careless slip on the part of Mr. Boortz. Last week he also posted this:

"South Carolina Congressman Henry Brown, one of the co-sponsors of HR-25, stopped by and actually signed books with Congressman Linder and myself!"

And this:

"Interview requests for Congressman Linder and myself..."

Even as a recovering lawyer, he should know better.

Now, at least you do.

Our focus this time is that awful phrase "try and." Last week California Senator Diane Feinstein was taking aim at Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. Commenting on an irrelevant and innocuous comment he wrote, Di Fi said,

"Whether that was a joke, or whether it represents his real view, I don't know. We'll try and find out."

Well, she is not alone, both in making something out of nothing on Judge Roberts, and also in the mis-use of "try and." If she is going to "find out," isn't the "try and" unnecessary? What she meant, of course, was "We'll try TO find out."

It's another example of careless and lazy use of this marvelous language. This, from a person whose job it is to communicate.

Now, you know better. Feel free to inform Senator Feinstein on our behalf.

This tip is a simple one. It involves the word "irregardless." It is perhaps a careless fusion of "irrespective" and "regardless." But this one is a snap: in proper English,

there is no such word as "irregardless."

Do not use it, regardless of your intent. Like we said: simple.

Our tip today involves the misuse of phrases involving "print," such as:

"I printed out the report," or

"I'll print off the file."

As used in these examples, what is the difference between "print off" and "print out"? Well, I can tell you the principal similarity. In both cases, the extra word is unnecessary and sloppy. You do not have to print out or off... just print the sucker! In other words, do not follow "print" with either "off" or "out."

The etymology of words is fascinating. Where do you suppose "getgo" comes from -- as in,

"He was behind in the race from the getgo." -- ?

We're not sure, and we're not sure we'll ever find out. 'Cause there is no such word... not in real English. Nope, not even "get-go."

You want to put your best verbal foot forward? Do away with "getgo" then, in any of its forms.

You're welcome; it's what we do. (And now you know what "etymology" means, too.)

Our focus here is on two similar words: imminent and eminent. We heard that John Roberts is "imminently qualified" to be chief justice. No he is not. He is eminently qualified. Though, maybe confusing things and yet perhaps clarify the distinction, Judge Roberts' confirmation to the court is imminent.

"Imminent" means "close in time," or "about to occur." "Eminent" means "distinguished," or "standing above others."

The minor difference in pronunciation is in the first letter. The difference in meaning is significant.

My, how careless we are with words... when we value them so little. Today's tip involves the overuse of "different."

Noting new trends in paint, home improvement guru Danny Lipford says,

"They are a available in a number of different colors."

But of course... would they be available in a number of the SAME colors?

An alleged TV journalist reports that,

"the victim was shot at his house at least six different times."

Ah... he might have been shot at least six SAME times?

Another journalist reports that "the wind comes from every different direction." As opposed to... every same direction?

Sure, words are inexpensive. But they are cheap only when you treat them as such.

This tip is a quickie. It involves one word: heighth.

Actually, it is not a word; it is a non-word. Like our tip earlier about "irregardless," there is no such word in proper English. Height: yes; heighth: no.

We were amused and irritated by a statement offered by Florida Governor Jeb Bush:

"I cannot emphasize enough to the folks that live in the Florida Keys: a hurricane is coming."

Our first reaction was "Duh!" But that reminded us of a public service announcement we have heard on the radio: "I'm a hypocrit. No, I'm not a vegetarian that wears leather shoes."

The point here is not that a hurricane is coming. Duh! It is that when referring to a person or group of people -- you know, human beings -- you should use the word "who," not "that."

And we concluded that Jeb Bush should not have taken English lessons from his brother. Bar, you slipped on that one.

Twice a year, most of us here in the U.S. change our clocks. And twice a year, we make this plea:

It is called daylight SAVING time, not daylight SAVINGS time, no matter what your mis-informed TV announcer says.

If you're gonna say it, say it right. It's daylight saving time.

Would we kid you?

(No, we would not... not here.)

This time we focus on the misuse (and by extension, the proper use) of "imply" and "infer." In a nutshell, one implies something by saying something; one infers something by drawing a conclusion based on what someone else said:

When I said, "How 'bout some hot, buttered popcorn?" I implied that I was hungry.

When the coach said, "We've got to improve our running game," I inferred that he was going to make some personnel changes.

(Mind you, that was only an example. The Tampa Bay Bucs HAVE no running game; so there is nothing to improve. But... that's another story; never mind that part.)

Gees, we could use recovering lawyer and talk show host Neal Boortz as the sole source for this series. As smart as he is, he continues to show gross ignorance by butchering the language. Last Monday on his web site, Neal wrote,

"It was the 11th night of rioting and attacks in and around Paris last night. Thousands of busses and cars have been burned. Police are being shot at. Paramedics are being attacked. By who? By 'youths.'"

Perhaps by youths, but not "by who." (Yes, we caught "shot at," too, and his careless use of the passive mode. Neal's abuse of the language is overwhelming! But we have to focus here.)

"By" is a preposition; what comes after that is the object of the preposition, so you must use the objective form of the word: "whom."

Let me make it simple with two easy-to-remember examples:

"Who was that masked man?" -- subjective mode; "who" is the subject.

"For Whom the Bell Tolls" -- objective mode; object of the prepositional phrase.

This time we are only looking at one word: "only." And we just used it incorrectly. Did you catch it? We'll give you another example:

"She only watches TV in the bedroom."

Oh really? Doesn't she sleep in the bedroom? Doesn't she breathe in the bedroom? If so, then she does more than watch TV in the bedroom.

In that case, "only" modifies the phrase "in the bedroom." So it should come immediately before the phrase: "She watches TV only in the bedroom."

We have heard "only" misplaced dozens of times recently. It is careless, misleading... and wrong.

In general, the modifier should come as close to the word it modifies as possible; and, in most cases, directly before the word(s) it modifies. That's a good tip; it is not a tip good.

This tip involves another error that pops up often, particularly in written communication, the difference between "affect" and "effect." Fortunately, we've got an easy way to remember how to use the correct word.

"Affect" is always a verb.

"Effect" is always a noun. Simple, huh? And absolute.

OK, almost absolute. "Effect" can be used as a verb when used to mean "to bring about." (And, in rare and very unusual cases, "affect" can be a noun. But, for all practical purposes, you can ignore that.) For most every day usage, stick to the rule.

We love it when visitors keep us on our toes. Last week we advised that "affect" is always a verb. One subscriber noted that, in certain cases, it can be used as a noun. We acknowledge that we missed some rare exceptions. But we still like our rule, which is almost always applicable.

This time we beat up on another word that is horribly overused and mis-used:

"Gees, Frank; that was an awfully nice party last weekend."

Make up your mind. Was it awful, or was it nice? It cannot be both.

Naturally, the word "awfully" is not correct as it is used there. Save it for an awful thing... like describing people who do not believe in Santa Claus.

We gotta have some sympathy for Barbra Streisand, who jumped the skark with her first movie, "Funny Girl." Still, the latest entry on her web site blog is downright silly... and incorrect. Last week she wrote about cancelling her subscription to the L.A. Times:

"In light of the obvious step away from the principals of journalistic integrity, which would dictate that journalists be journalists, editors be editors and accountants be accountants, I am now forced to carefully reconsider which sources can be trusted to provide me with accurate, unbiased news and forthright opinions."

Though we question her ability to identify a source which "can be trusted," that is not our point. She used the word "principals" incorrectly. Of course, she is not alone in this. Many people have trouble with the use of "principal" versus "principle."

I'm gonna offer a rule to clarify the distinction. My old buddy Norm Levine helped me with this when we were in school: the high school principal is your pal (in theory). He is a leader because he has principles.

Or, as BBHQ regular Don put it, "It's not the school I dislike, it's the principle of the thing!"

In other words, "principal" is usually a person; a "principle" is an abstract, though an important, concept.

Our favorite source for the wholesale slaughter of the language is recovering lawyer and radio talk show host Neal Boortz. Last week, on his web site, Mr. Boortz wrote, "The House of Representatives unveiled their 'Holiday Tree.' Jonah Goldberg reports on the outrage and gives some insight as to where it may have all began."

"Where it may have all began." -- ??

No! I don't know how to explain it in simple terms. But used this way, the past participle form of the verb is required. The past participle form of "begin" is "begun." (Begin, began, begun.) I think that mastering this is a matter of saying it, listening to it, and memorizing it -- maybe just the sound of it. I just know that when I read what Neal wrote, my teeth hurt!

We have a simple and quick tip his week. Recently we heard a TV host refer to a gift as "totally new." What, I thought, is the difference between new and totally new? Is there such a thing as partially new?

There is no difference, of course... except that "totally" is inappropriate as used there. It is sloppy and unnecessary.

As we wrote before, words are inexpensive. But they are cheap only when you treat them as such.

This week we make our annual plea for you to say the year correctly. You can write it as 2006, but when you say it, it is "Two thousand six," NOT "two thousand and six."

I know; a lot of people in TV journalism include the "and." But put very simply and bluntly, they are wrong. They should know better.

Now, at least you do.

And, happy new year!

Today, we offer first a comment without comment. We heard this on a national TV news broadcast. During the post-Christmas sales rush, a reporter asked an enthusiastic customer, "Your husband doesn't know you're here?"

She replied, "Noooo... he know I'm at da' store, but he don't know I'm getting all this stuff. No, he don't know that."

It is just beyond... oh wait; we promised we would not.

On a more substantive point, last week, after the Tampa Bay Bucs clinched the top spot in their division, a local TV journalist (who is paid to use words... and paid extremely well, I should add) reported this:

"My guess is the Bucs have already forgot about their victory."

My guess is that he should take a refresher course in basic verb conjugation. It's "forget, forgot, forgotten." In the indicative perfect tense:

I have forgotten
You have forgotten
He/she has forgotten

We have forgotten
You have forgotten
They have forgotten

And he should take a 30% pay cut, too; though my guess is that his editor never noticed anything wrong with what he said.

Once again we feed at the trough of radio talk show host and recovering attorney Neal Boortz, who fills our plate with material. Recently Neal wrote on his web site, "First of all ... let's pause just a second to remember..."

We wanted to ask him what the difference between "first" and "first of all" is; but Neal might have accused us of being argumentative. No, that would not be argumentative; that would be making a point. There IS no difference. Isn't "first" pretty much the same as "first of all"? (And yes; that is rhetorical.) "Of all" is redundant; the phrase is sloppy. Clean it up, Neal!

We have an error compounding an error this time. A few months ago on "Meet the Press," Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said of Harriet Miers (briefly a nominee for the Supreme Court), "The hearings will be make or break for Harriet Miers in a way they haven't been for any other nominee. She'll have to do very well there. She has a tough road to hoe."

A transcription error, perhaps? No, a cliche error. In a press release in 2003, Senator Schumer wrote, "[William] Pryor has been nominated to the Fifth Circuit [actually the 11th]--already one of the most conservative courts in the country. And he may be more conservative than the most conservative judges already serving on this imbalanced court. Mr. Pryor has a tough road to hoe here."

Addressing Janice Rogers Brown, a nominee for the D.C. Circuit in 2003, Senator Schumer said, "There's a lot in your record that troubles me. And I think you have got a rough road to hoe, at least on this side of the aisle."

Well, our point here is not that George Bush is not the only national figure who has trouble getting his words right... though it is a good point. Our point is that the proper wording of that metaphor is "row to hoe." Row... as in row of crops.

But perhaps the better thing to do is avoid the tired and obviously (in Senator Schumer's case) overused metaphor entirely.

We remember the old admonition, "Avoid trite cliches like the plague."

We take issue with a word that is misused so often that its misuse has become acceptable among the lazy class. It's unbelievable.

No actually find it unfortunate, but believable; and that's the point. It is "unbelievable."

Have we confused you yet?

The standard definition of "unbelievable" is "not to be believed; beyond belief or understanding; i.e.: 'at incredible speed.'" But in this "enlightened" age, some dictionaries include this as an additional definition: "improbable: having a probability too low to inspire belief."

We object. "Unbelievable" is the opposite of believable; not rising to the level of being believable. Doesn't "having a probability too low to inspire belief," go beyond "improbable"?

Gees, if we cannot properly identify and use "unbelievable," before long we will not know what the definition of the word "is" is.

Today we highlight something that Senator Lindsay Graham said on the Tony Snow radio show last Tuesday:

"If the filibuster had went on another week..."

Please do not ask us to explain that.

Whew! And they say that George Bush is inarticulate!

We don't watch "60 Minutes" octogenarian contrarian Andy Rooney often anymore. Andy's time has long gone. But we caught him last night. Of illiterate Iraqi citizens, Andy said, "If they can't read, they may not count too good, either. That's George Bush's fault, too."

(OK, he did not say that last sentence; but...)

Now, maybe Andy said that on purpose. But if so, we have no idea why. Surely he knows that the correct wording is "count too well, either."

"Good" is an adjective or noun. As an adjective, it modifies a noun. For example: That is a good book.

Even Raymond Babbit (Dustin Hoffman, "Rain Man") knows that: "I'm a very good driver."

"Well" is an adverb; it modifies a verb.

More simply, use "well" (as opposed to "good") when you are describing the manner in which something is done.

Surely wordsmith Andy must know that.

Or, does he?

Aren't those GM OnStar radio commercials awful? They are running one now in which the OnStar expert informs the police, "I don't think anybody is hurt, but she's pretty shooken up."

"Shooken up"? Doesn't that just fill you with confidence about the skills of the OnStar experts?

The conjugation of "shake," of course, is "shake, shook, shaken."

So... brush up your Webster... and pay no attention to OnStar.

This tip demonstrates that even the most brilliant among us can stumble with the language. Pointing out one of the many failures of our education system, economist and thinker extraordinaire Dr. Thomas Sowell wrote:

"The problem gets more complicated in politics, where one set of people has the power to postpone facing reality and a different set of people have to pay the price later on."

There are three notable errors in that sentence.

"Where" refers to a location, not a circumstance.

"One set of people has the power..." is correct; "a different set of people have to pay..." is not. In both cases, the subject ("set") is singular; the corresponding verb must be, too.

Finally, one should not end a sentence with a preposition. "On" adds nothing to that sentence, though it made us cringe.

Whew! That sounds like it was written by a first semester grad student. Dr. Sowell should know better. Now, at least you do.

Today we pick up something said by Al Michaels during the Super Bowl broadcast. Remembering events of past games, Michaels, said, "Every one of them have started at this point."

This offers a chance to reinforce subject/verb agreement. The subject of the sentence is "one." (To isolate the subject, ignore any modifying phrase; in this case, "of them.") The verb is "have started." It's a single subject, but a plural verb. And thus, it is wrong. Of course, he should have said, "Every one of them has started..."

I am sure that Mr. Michaels was merely distracted at the moment. Perhaps Sir Mick was in the broadcast booth at the time.

Next, we reinforce the issue of subject/verb agreement. It seems like a simple concept, but lots of people trip over it. A few weeks ago, while taking a back-handed jab at George Bush, paradoxical as it may seem, former President Bill Clinton spoke about how much he enjoyed operating under the confines of the law -- in this case, the FISA law. "I actually liked it because none of us are immune from error."

In point of fact, the president was absolutely correct. Not even he is "immune from error."

Focus on the clause "none of us are immune from error." The subject of the clause is "none." (No; "of us" is a modifying prepositional phrase, not the subject.) The subject is singular (being derived from "not one.") The verb, therefore, should be "is," not "are."

"None of us is immune from error."

Curses; foiled again, Mr. Clinton. A college intern should have been able to tell you that.

[Editor's note: There is some dispute about this. You can find grammarians who say that "none" can be either singular or plural. Nah... for logical reasons, we disagree.]

While we were soaking in the sun last week, we drove past the Sugar Hill Hearing Aid Center. The proprietor must have paid $500 to have his pitch painted on the large glass window:

Ouch! It hurt just to read it. The apostrophe implies possession or a contraction. But in this case, it is just a plural form of "checkup." You might add "s," or "es," or "ies" to make a plural -- but not an apostrophe.

Five hundred bucks. Gees!

This "nails on a blackboard" pet peeve involves the misuse of the word "happen." A local TV reporter says, "This bridge was supposed to happen two years ago."

No, bridges do not happen. They are built; they are crossed; they are repaired; they are torn down. But they do not "happen."

People misuse "happen" when they are too lazy to find the appropriate word. Laziness is no excuse.

This tip was spawned by the CBS Evening News on March 31. Anchor Ed Bradley introduced a story as follows:

"If you've ever wondered about the power of prayer to heal, a major new scientific study has found no direct link between prayer and recovery."

OK, Ed. But if you have not ever wondered about the power of prayer to heal, what has the scientific study found?

Do you see the point here? The major study found what it found... there is no "if" about it. "If" is a qualifier (or limiter) as used here. But the "if" clause does not limit the statement. He should have phrased it differently.

It's a common error; but that does not excuse it, especially coming from a man who makes his living with words.

(We would argue with Mr. Bradley's claim that a "study has found," too. Studies do not find anything. But that's beside the point.)

Here we present an observation without correction. We saw a news story last week about rats (the four-legged ones) running loose in a local high school. Interviewed by a reporter, one student offered this comment:

"I seen it, doe; dey be big."

What is astonishing is that the reporter found the presence of the rats to be more important than what, in our minds, is the obvious, real story here.

A high school student.

High school.

Exactly what are they teaching in schools these days?

Our tax dollars at work, huh?

We are always amused at the hurricane hysteria in the news down here in Florida this time of year. Last week we heard an "expert" proclaim, "There were a record number of hurricanes last year."

We're not sure of the accuracy of that statement, but we are certain of the eloquence of it. It rates a zero. Do you see why?

What is the subject of the sentence?

It is "number." (No, "of hurricanes" is a modifying, prepositional phrase.) The subject is "number."

Now, what is the verb?

It is "were."

So, do you see the problem? The subject is singular; the verb is plural. And that is always a no-no.

It's a simple subject/verb issue. And this "expert" is not such an expert, after all.

This tip comes from a statement by home improvement guru Danny Lipford. While introducing a new type of caulk, Danny said, "What the bioseal does is it protects against any growth of mold or mildew."

Can you diagram that sentence? Neither can we. It's a mess! The verb is "does," I think. The subject is "bioseal." Or is it "it"? Danny has tried to combine two sentences into one. He should have said, "What the bioseal does is protect against..." Or, better yet, "Bioseal protects against..."

We'd be glad to trade Danny some lessons in grammar and sentence structure for some advice on kitchen remodeling. In any event, Danny should know better. So should you.

We heard someone say this on the radio last week: "I'm am ex-veteran myself."

Now, we have nothing against veterans; we're very fond of them. But... just how do you become an ex-veteran? Think about it.

No; you are a veteran or you are not. You can never be an ex-veteran.

This tip involves another careless use of words. Last week we heard a radio talk show host say this:

"They couldn't do it, for a whole variety of reasons."

What is the difference between a "variety of reasons" and a "whole variety of reasons"?

Precision, that's what. "Whole" adds nothing to the statement. It's sloppy, and any person who makes their living with words should know better. So should you.

Now you do.

As we have said before, sure words are inexpensive. But they are cheap only when you treat them as such.

Ned Lamont is running against Senator Joe Lieberman to be the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut. There's nothing wrong with that. But, of his chances, Mr. Lamont says, "I think it's really doable. We're going to win."

THAT'S what's wrong. While many people use the word "doable," it is not acceptable in standard English... especially in Connecticut.

How many times have you heard something like this: "The young boy turned up missing after a camping trip"? Or, "The trophy went missing three weeks ago."

It went somewhere, all by itself? It just got up and went?

How can someone turn up... missing?

There are many ways to avoid those awkward constructs... and avoid them, you should.

This tip is one word: "oftentimes." The rule is simple: Don't use it. There is no such acceptable word. "Often" will do just fine, all by itself.

Last week we heard radio talk show host Sean Hannity, who makes his living as a communicator, promote an offer as being "completely and totally free."

Well, how would something be "totally free" if it were not also "completely free"? In other words, one of the two adjectives is redundant. The communicator was sloppy!

As we have noted before, words are inexpensive. But they are cheap only when you treat them as such.

This tip based on a phrase that we hear too often; one that always makes our teeth hurt. Last week we heard a radio talk show host say, "I tend to start projects and not really finish them."

What does "not really" mean, in that context? Either he finishes projects, or he does not. How do you "not really" finish a project?

The point here, of course, is that "not really" is an over-used, generally useless phrase. You'd be much better off not using it at all.


Next we pick on two phrases which, although grammatically correct, belong in the dust bin of the dictionary: "at this point in time," and "all intents and purposes."

Those are catch phrases that people pull out when they are simply not thinking. For us, that's a red flag. Why would we listen to someone who is so lazy with the language?

That's rhetorical, friends. Think about it, and then retire those phrases.

We recently watched and listened intently to the young, shapely, attractive blond real estate agent, who was explaining how she acquired the listings she was offering us. "All these listings came from the same exact place."

The "same, exact" place? And, that would be different than a different exact place?

Our point here is that one of those two words does not belong there. "Exact" adds nothing to the explanation.

If you want to impress your clients, save the low cut blouse for the mall. Watch your words. (But please, do let us know when you plan to go to the mall. We'll be there, eyes wide open.)

We yield to and quote from one of our favorite wordsmiths, Peggy Noonan. Commenting about the media last week, Ms. Noonan wrote:

"This is one reason the media is important. (Not 'are important.' Language evolves; usage changes; people vote with their tongues. It's not the correct 'return to normality'; it's the incorrect 'return to normalcy.' It's not 'the media are' it's 'the media is.' People see the media as one big thing.)"


The master has spoken. (Or, is it "mistress"?)

When I was broadcast major in college, one of my mentors wanted to remove the phrase "this program was pre-recorded" from the airwaves. "Pre" implies earlier. How could we have something that was recorded, but not earlier than now?

We still have work to do. Last week I heard a news dude inform the viewers that the interview we just saw was "recorded earlier." Could it have been recorded... later?

In both cases, "recorded" would have sufficed all by itself.

In a promo for his radio show last week, host Bill O'Reilly said, "I believe they have made a tremendous amount of mistakes."

Well, the man who makes his living with words has made more than his share. And right there was another one. Use "amount" when you refer to a quantity that cannot be counted or individually identified. Use "number" to refer to a quantity that can be counted.

The number may be large, but it nonetheless can be counted: "They have made a tremendous number of mistakes."

O'Reilly should know better. Now, you do.

This time we beat up on the word "incidences," which, actually, is not a word at all. People use it, perhaps, because they heard someone else use it. That does not make it right, of course. "Incidence" refers to degree or extent of the occurrence of something. There is no plural usage for the word. "Incidences" is the result of an improper mix of "occurrences" and "incidents," both of which, are fine words. The merger of the two, like AOL and Time-Warner, is a bust. Strike it from your vocabulary.

This is from one of our favorite commentators, Michael Medved. He says it best, so we are just going to quote him directly:

"I can't help myself. I cringe whenever I see obvious, embarrassing mistakes (especially if they happen to be my own), and I particularly loathe the current tendency to promote political correctness by substituting the pronoun 'they' when it should be 'he' or 'she.' Example: 'Each individual makes this common mistake, whether they know better or not.' Obviously, 'they' (plural) disagrees with 'Each individual' (singular). The right wording, of course, would be 'Each individual makes this common mistake whether he knows better or not.'"


We tackle a pronunciation issue here. You all know the word "zoologist" -- the person who specializes in animal life. It's one of those "ology" words. Put "zoo" in front of it, and it is the study of animals. Simple.

Many people pronounce it that way, as if it were an exact blend of the two: zoo-ologist.

But is it not. It is spelled "zoology," and pronounced "zo" - rhymes with "dough" -- "ology."

Zo, there ya' go; get it right.

We're hung up on modifiers again. Far too frequently we have heard the claim that this or that will "change your entire life, or this will "change your life forever."

Well, how would something change just part of your life? Or, how would something change your life... but only temporarily?

The writers hoped that the modifiers "entire" and "forever" would make their claim more appealing and irresistible. But in our view, they only serve to make the writers look foolish.

There is an old saying in the woodworking trade: "measure twice; cut once." In the world of words, we believe that you should "think twice; write once."

We remind you about another adverb we have beaten into the ground; it's terrible!

Actually, it is "terribly." Recently we heard a radio talk show host say, "Folks, this is terribly important."

Really? What is so terrible about it?

It may be very important; it may be extremely important; but I cannot imagine how it would be "terribly important."

As many of us do, he has misused the adverb form of the word "terrible."

We're not sure if that is terrible, but it certainly is careless.

He should know better; now, you do.

We focus this time on another misused term that makes our teeth hurt: "end result."

"The end result was an interception and a touchdown for the Jets."

Well, good for the Jets, but bad for the announcer. Is there a "beginning result," or a "middle result"? No; a result is a result. Of course, it comes at the end. Otherwise, it would not be a result.

We have a mouthful for you this time. Demonstrating that the English language is indeed peculiar, we point out three words that sound exactly alike, but with different spellings and meanings: rain, rein, reign, and reins.

We all know about the rain, as in "who'll stop the rain?" But it's the other three that cause so many problems.

With a "g," reign is a period of time during which something or somebody is dominant or powerful: the reign of Henry VIII.

Without a "g" but with an "s," reins as a noun are those straps you hold onto so the horse does not get away. I suppose it can be used as a noun without the "s," but I would not ride a horse that way.

"Rein," as a verb, means to harness, or control, as "rein in federal spending." (Fat chance, huh?)

We'd like to clear up an often-misused word, the past tense form of the verb "sneak." No, it is not "snuck"; there is no such proper word. (We admit; we had to look it up to make certain.)

The conjugation of sneak is sneak, sneaked, sneaked.

ABC News touts their Sunday morning news program host, Kate Snow. Their web site proudly notes that Ms. Snow is a graduate of Cornell University and holds a master's degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University.

That, however, did not prevent her from saying, while promoting ABC's election coverage:

"Let me show you where we're at."

Ouch! That that makes our ears hurt!

Fooey on Cornell, Georgetown, ABC News, and Kate Snow! Her terrible misuse of the language is inexcusable. The lady makes her living by speaking, for cryin' out loud!

This tip comes from BBHQ visitor Richard, who is bold enough to say that he has a problem with freedom -- OK, not freedom, just the word "free." Richard points out a phrase frequently used in advertising, "You can get this item for free."

If the item cost a lot of money, might you hear, "You can get this item for expensive"? (The logic of advertising aside, no, you would not.)

Free (and expensive) are adjectives. You might say, "This item is free," or "This item is expensive"; but you do not get it "for free."

Here we clarify a simple item, but one that separates the writers from the scribblers.

Writing paper... you know, that stuff with your name and address pre-printed on it. Is it "stationary" or "stationery"?

It's "stationery." Stationary means standing still... which is what your career might do it you get it wrong.

This week we focus on another one of those phrases, "close proximity." Hmmmmm... my dictionary defines "proximity" as "the property of being close together; the region close around a person or thing." And that would make "close," as used above, redundant.

People use the phrase because they have heard it many times. But that does not make it right.

Be a leader, not a follower.

Well, amidst all the holiday plans and festivities, we tackle a big one this week. As armchair grammarians, we have been struggling for years to determine the proper use of "e-mail." Does "e-mail" refer to the general category of electronic messaging, or does it refer to a specific, electronically-generated message in your e-mail folder? Do we send an e-mail, or an e-mail message?

Well, most people say, "I just received an e-mail," or "Send me an e-mail with the details." I often hear radio talk show hosts say something like, "We've received lots of e-mails on that topic."

That would seem to answer our dilemma, would it not? (After all, "when in Rome...")

No, it does not. Prior to Al Gore's invention (that would be the Internet), when we relied on writing paper and envelopes with stamps on them, would you have said, "I just received a mail," or "Send me a mail with the details"? Of course not.

To us, *that* settles it. In keeping with tradition, and to maintain consistency, we should say, "I just received an e-mail message," or "Send me an e-mail message with the details."

Too wordy? OK; we'd settle for "e-message" to refer to an e-mail message.

No, we have never heard the word used before. But, what do you say? Let's start a trend here. Agree? Send us an e-message; let's talk about it.

We take a tip offered by radio/TV talk show host Don Imus. On his show last Thursday, Don pointed out the silliness of this phrase: "He has a bright future ahead of him."

After all, who has a bright future (or any future, for that matter), behind him?

Obviously, the phrase "ahead of him" is unnecessary. It's a throwaway phrase that, in this case, should have been thrown away rather than spoken.

Last week we were looking at the blog by CBS News dudette, Katie Couric. (Yes, she has a blog.) She wrote about her experience at a recent meeting at the White House:

"As I was looking at my colleagues around the room--Charlie Gibson, George Stephanopoulos, Brian Williams, Tim Russert, Bob Schieffer, Wolf Blitzer, and Brit Hume--I couldn't help but notice, despite how far we've come, that I was still the only woman there. Well, there was some female support staff near the door. But of the people at the table, the 'principals' in the meeting, I was the only one wearing a skirt. Everyone was gracious, though the jocular atmosphere was palpable."

Echhh! We first cringed at "there was some female support staff." "Was" is singular; "some" is plural"; and "staff" is singular. At best, it's a messy sentence.

Then, Katie's use of "jocular" knocked us off our chair. "The jocular atmosphere was palpable" -- ? Surely she did not mean that the atmosphere was characterized by jokes and good humor. But that's what "jocular" means. It appears that Katie thinks that "jocular" is somehow associated with jocks... you know, macho guys with high testosterone levels. Palpable, indeed!

Whew! We're sure glad that the perky Katie has professional writers working for her at the CBS Evening News!

This tip was inspired by the global warming controversy -- actually, not the controversy itself, but by a climate-babe who wants to punish those who do not agree with her:

"If a meteorologist can't speak to the fundamental science of climate change, then maybe the AMS shouldn't give them a Seal of Approval."


Now, ignore the global warming issue... cool your jets. Look at what she wrote: "If a meteorologist"... that's an individual. Then she wrote, "...the AMS shouldn't give them..."

Who is "them"? "Them" is plural. Nope. To be consistent, she should have written "...the AMS shouldn't give him (or her)..."

She was, no doubt, trying to be gender-neutral. But instead, she ended up being -- let's be kind here -- wrong.

Let's hope she knows more about weather than she does grammar.

Oh; as Paul Harvey says, "She would like me to tell you her name"...

I heard a story on the radio last week describing an event that was to last "36 short hours."

How can that be? As I understand it, every hour is 60 minutes; no more, no less. Thirty-six hours is thirty-six hours; not short, not long -- thirty-six; period.

Nope; it's a sloppy use of the language.

This time we point out another phrase, usually employed out of habit, but improper, nonetheless: "general consensus."

A consensus is a shared agreement among members of a population -- not all members, necessarily; but virtually all. Hence, adding "general" to "consensus" is redundant.

We picked up this paragraph from a popular web site last week:

"We love getting emails from our readers, they all help us decide what to write in future issues. We wish we could reply to everyone but alas the sheer volume of messages (hundreds each day) make that impossible."

Where is the error there? "Emails"? No; we'll let that go. Run-on sentences? Maybe, but that's very minor. Punctuation? Not noteworthy.

Hint: subject-verb agreement.

Let me break it down for you: "...the sheer volume... make that impossible."

"Volume" is singular; "make" is plural.

This is a comment from a recent interview on PBS's "Frontline" by Len Downie, executive editor of the Washington Post: "Every person we speak with who would identify themselves as a conservative journalist says, 'Bias? If you think we're biased, look at The Washington Post, that liberal newspaper.'"

The faulty logic aside, Mr. Downie has has attempted to be gender neutral in his word choice. But in doing so, he is wrong. "Every person" is singular, but "themselves" is plural. Mr. Downie should have said, "... identify himself (or herself) as a..."

Like the Y2K hysteria, the media and the "experts" are warning you about the chaos that might occur when most of us in the U.S. set our clocks ahead one hour. Well, the hysteria is nonsense. But it is ridiculous that so many in the media still cannot get it right.


As we have reminded you before, it is "Daylight Saving Time," not Daylight SAVINGS Time.

The Atlanta Constitution (AJC) had the good fortune that a staff reporter for their paper was nearby when that horrible bus accident. Rushing back to the office, AJC reporter Mike Morris prepared a dispatch based on his experience. The heading was "First-person Account: 'A cold chill ran down my spine'" (a tad pedomorphic, perhaps).

Paragraph nine of the story began as follows:

"Myself and several other motorists who had gotten out to help began trying to get...."

Whew! A cold chill ran down my spine when I read that!

Now, I understand that Mr. Morris was in a hurry to file his story. But gees, he is a writer, for heaven's sake! Neither he nor an editor who should have proofed the story before posting it caught this glaring error.

Note to the AJC: "Myself" can never be the subject of a sentence or clause.

That's a third grade grammar lesson, Mike!

(Mr. Morris did not reply to our e-mail request for clarification.)

At the time of publication, the article was here.

We just love Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice... the best that Florida has to offer. The folks at Tropicana just spent a jillion dollars painting their trucks with a new slogan:

It's too bad they didn't check with us before they spent all that money. "Everyday" is an adjective; it should be used before the word it modifies, as in, "everyday people." What they meant was "Feel Pure Good. Every Day." Now imagine what it will cost them to get it right.

We have a reunion coming up. Nostalgia is in the air. So too, is the memory and lessons of Mr. Burnett, our 12th grade English teacher. We received an invitation to the reunion last week: "You're invited to the 20th reunion of the 1987 graduating class of Shaker Heights High School."

(OK, so it is not the 1987 class; we rounded up.)

The point is, it is not the "20th reunion," unless there has been a reunion every year. It's the 20th anniversary reunion of the class of 1987.

Mr. Burnett would be appalled -- though he would be pleased that we have corrected it.

Our inspiration this week comes from Neal Boortz, a very smart, but very careless person. Recently he wrote this on his web site:

"Florida Sen. Mike Bennett... understands that many of the problems on our high-speed interstates are caused by fools driving too slowly in the fast lanes."

"Bennett has introduced a bill that would punish drivers who drive too slow. It would make it illegal for these slow drivers to move to the left lanes on an expressway and stay there."

Say what you want, but Mr. Boortz is not consistent. When you are describing how (or the manner in which) something is done, you use the adverb form of the word. In this case, "slowly."

Perhaps Mr. Boortz was inconsistent on purpose. Maybe he did not know which form was correct, so he used them both, figuring that he would be right as least once.

But he does not look half-smart. He just looks careless. (I was going somewhere else with that, but "careless" will do just fine.)

This is more of a definitional thing than a Webster thing. But we read it so often that it is worth an exclamation point. The other day we read the headline of an article allegedly explaining the "moral difference between human beings and animals." An advocate recently wrote about the superiority of animals over human beings.

The only problem with that is that human beings ARE animals.

If you desire a technical explanation, absorb this: "Animals are a major group of organisms, classified as the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa. In general they are multicellular, capable of locomotion and responsive to their environment, and feed by consuming other organisms. Their body plan becomes fixed as they develop, usually early on in their development as embryos, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later on. Biologically, human beings fall under the animal kingdom."

If you care to, you can compare characteristics human to those of other animals. But you should not try to compare humans to animals. We are they.

We offer the first in a series of lessons on spelling. Our favorite misspelled word is "believe." You can remember the "i before e" rule: "It's "i" before "e" except after "c," or when it is pronounced like "a" as "neighbor" and "weigh" or "e" as in "their" and "heir." (A little complicated for our tastes.) Or, you can just remember that there is a "lie" in "believe."

We prefer the latter.

Our lesson here comes from a White House news conference. An unidentified journalist phrased this question:

"Columbine, Amish school shooting, now this, and a whole host of other gun issues brought into schools -- that's not including guns on the streets and in many urban areas and rural areas. Does there need to be some more restrictions?"

Well, perhaps the journalist was nervous. Maybe he/she just misspoke. (The next sentence was this: "Does there need to be gun control in this country?")

But, in the first question, the subject is "restrictions," which is plural. The verb must be plural, too; "do," not "does."

The president may not have caught it. Surely the journalist did not. But we did; and now, you have.

While listening to the radio, we heard this sadly weak come-on for a bank: "If you are looking to refinance, interest rates have never been as low."

Well, that got us to thinking: if we are not looking to refinance, have interest rates nonetheless been as low? And if not, why not?

Imagine... somebody actually paid a copywriter for that.

Once again, we go to the Neal Boortz well for material. Last week radio talk show guy Neal Boortz wrote on his web site:

"Congressman John Linder, author of HR 25, The FairTax Bill, sent out a press release yesterday afternoon. H.R. 25 now has 60 co-sponsors. That's the highest ever. The FairTax now has more co-sponsors than any other piece of tax reform legislation in the House."

We wanted so much to call Neal and ask him about that. Now, the fairTax is fine; we're all for it. But we wanted to know the difference between "sent out" and just plain, old "sent."

People use that wording so often for the same reason they do many things: because everybody else does -- to which we employ the old saw "If everybody stood in front of a moving train, would you?"

Nope; it's another careless use of a preposition.

As we have written before, words are inexpensive. But they are cheap only when you treat them so.

We have another spelling lesson. Our word for this week is "accommodate." "Accommodate" can accommodate both a double-c and a double-m.

We're going to be with you all summer long -- so the saying goes. "All summer long" -- ?? As opposed to... all summer short?

It's another phrase that we use because... well, because everyone else does. And that's the worst reason to do anything!

"All summer" would do just fine.

Ah, the first day of the hurricane season brings out the best in our diligent, professional weather-watchers. Saturday morning, local weather guru Denis Phillips warned us, trying to sound very authoritative, "We certainly could see a tornado pop up at any point in time."

"At any point in time." -- ???

We suppose that he really did mean "at any point in time." But we're not sure what "any point in time" means. "... at any time" would have been clear and sounded so much more authoritative.

Take notes, Denis; and brush up your Webster!

We remind you of the conjugation of another verb. This time it is "creep." The conjugation is creep, crept, crept. In the present tense, it is as follows:

I creep
you creep
he/she/it creeps

we creep
you creep
they creep

Creep, as a verb. That's not to be confused with the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP), or most of the purveyors of what passes for modern rock music.

This time, we merely quote from an article we saw on Yahoo news:

"Quincy (Mass.) teachers continued to walk the picket lines on Monday afternoon, despite a Dedham Superior Court judge ordering them back to work."

"'The health care increase and the co-pay increase will wipe away any salary increase,' one teacher said."

"'It almost makes myself look other places, other schools that would take better care of a teacher,' another teacher said."

Whew! We hope that "another teacher" is the shop teacher, not the chairman of the English department.

This time, we highlight another frequently misspelled word. Death is not on our mind, but for some reason, cemetery is. Yep; it's all "e's" -- no "a's": cemetery.

And that's final!

We tackle two similar words: "continuously" and "continually." Lazy writers use them interchangeably. But there is a slight difference. "Continuously" means occurring without a break (in space or time), such as, "It rained continuously for three days." That means the rain did not stop at all for three days. "Continually" means repeatedly, with breaks inbetween, such as, "She worked on writing the essay continually for six weeks." (She took some breaks -- food, sleep, and pesky* bathroom breaks -- but otherwise she worked every day.)

(* Thank you, Sheryl Crow.)

We will think of our web site continually (not continuously) while we are on vacation.

We like to put to rest a terribly overused phrase: "These are historic times." How many times have you heard that on the news?

Are there any times that are not historic?

The phrase deserves a fitting and final burial. Surely there is a better way to make a point.

We recently read a statement by the teachers' union: "Resolved, that the American Federation of Teachers oppose the war in Iraq and call upon our country's leaders to withdraw all troops....."

Now... it seems to us that a teachers' union might better spend its time working on a matter it should be teaching to fourth-grade students, subject-verb agreement, rather than dealing with matters way outside of its field. The subject of that sentence ("Federation") is third-person singular; the verb ("oppose") is plural.

I oppose         we oppose
you oppose         you oppose
he/she/it opposes         they oppose

Note well, Federation!

Last week we did it again. In our newsletter we wrote, "We did spend a day in our nation's capitol..."

Well, any self-respecting 10th grader knows that "capitol" refers to the building where the Congress meets, and "capital" refers to the seat of government of a jurisdiction. And if nothing more, we are certainly self-respecting 10th graders!

We did that intentionally, of course... just to see if you were paying attention.

A the risk of angering some of our subscribers again, we focus on a recent press release from former senator and current candidate, John Edwards:

"News Corp's purchase of the Dow Jones Co. and The Wall Street Journal should be the last straw when it comes to media consolidation. The basis of a strong democracy begins and ends with a strong, unbiased and fair media -- all qualities which are pretty hard to subscribe to Fox News and News Corp. The reality is that Americans deserve more news outlets -- not fewer."

Forget the politics here; this is about grammar and word choice. First, it is Mr. Edwards' OPINION that "Americans deserve more news outlets." That may or may not be a "reality." Like many candidates do, Mr. Edwards has stated his opinion as if it were a fact. Next, Mr. Edwards identifies "qualities which are pretty hard to subscribe to Fox News..." Actually, it is easy to subscribe to Fox News. The word the candidate should have used in this case is "ascribe." And we won't even touch on his use of the vernacular "pretty hard." Let's give the poor guy a break.

On a lazy Sunday afternoon (yesterday, in fact), we were reading one of Americas most respected newspapers. the St. Petersburg Times. On page 3B we read about a minor plane crash at a small airport:

"The FAA reported that the plane had just taken off and was attempting to return when it lost control on landing and crashed into a fence and a pond."

The plane "lost control." Oh, the humanity!

This is similar to many news stories that claim, for instance, that an SUV lost control and crashed into a building.

The St. Petersburg Times attributes this story to "Times Staff Writer." We can understand why no writer wanted to take credit for it.

Amid the rains and flooding recently, we heard one weather professional on television announce that "heavy rain produced a flood causing at least one person to be rescued."

The flood caused someone to be rescued? Or was it the rain that caused the rescue?

We suggest that the problem here is the word "caused."

On the other hand, given the scope of the severe weather, the entire thought seems to be superfluous.

This tip is a free gift... it really is: "free gift."

Isn't that the essence of a gift? It is free... by definition.

So the "free" in "free gift" is redundant.

And our consumer tip of the week is this: if it is not free, then it is not a gift.

We regularly hear people giving directions by referring to hands: "At the intersection, make a left-hand turn." "Both cars have pulled over to the left-hand side."

Why must left and right have hands? Do we need to be reminded of our hands whenever we refer to left and right?

Just a thought.

Recently we read about the destruction caused by a typhoon, whose force was supposedly "undescribable." But that sounds to us merely like a shortage of verbal skills. Certainly there are words in our marvelous language to describe even the most horrendous disaster.

Our suspicion was raised by the author's use of the word "undescribable." Nope; there is no such word. The proper word in this case would have been "indescribable."

This time we offer another one of the commonly misspelled words. And we admit, we have a blind spot on this one. The place where people are buried: it's a cemetery, not a cemetary. There is no "a" in buried. (Though there is in "burial"; that's probably what confuses us. Never mind; forget that last part. Forget it; forget it.)

We came across a job description for a senior systems analyst. In the qualifications section was this: "Specific Skills: required -- written and verbal communications skills."

For starters, "communications" is probably redundant and probably should not be plural. But what got our attention was the word "verbal." Verbal refers to words, either spoken or written. The author meant "oral," not "verbal." Besides, don't most all of us possess some level of written and oral skills? As written, the requirement is hardly limiting. This would have been much better: "Excellent writing and oral skills are required."

We're not sure where we got this, but it makes our eyes hurt just to read it:

"As soon as the fund makes their final decision, we will be calling all buyers and sending out letters to set up the second phase of meetings."

How can a fund make "their" decision? "Fund" is single; "their" is plural. And why do they send OUT letters? (Could they possible send IN letters? "Out," of course, is unnecessary, as used above.

Surely, the writer must have known better. No doubt it was carelessness. But people judge you by the words you use and how you use them.

One of the reasons we offer this feature is that we believe that the need to "brush up your Webster" is universal. Last week we read about some of the writing deficiencies found at a nationally-ranked, top-10 school*, the University of South Florida:

These grammatical gaffes, style blunders and generally baffling sentences have appeared in the schoolwork of some University of South Florida (USF) business students:

"The industry is very highly competitive in all fassets and we want our students to make a difference."

"It was definitely a positive experience that aloud me to gain very useful information."

"I think most women have a fetish for shoes. I know I am."

We don't know whether to laugh or cry. USF is our alma mater.

(*OK, the ranking is for football, not literacy. But the last time we checked, the purpose of a university was to educate, not churn out football players.)

We may have gone off the deep end; this tip is extremely arcane. Non-enthusiasts may wish to skip this one. But we found it irresistible.

BBHQ regular correspondent Ernie C. had a question about a quote in our newsletter: "The things which matter most must never be at the mercy of the things that matter least." -- Goethe

Ernie wrote, "Mr. G. used both 'which' and 'that.' Are both correct? Don't recall this ever being addressed in English class."

Well, after doing considerable research, we can see why. After all, English class lasted only... 12 years.

This is very tricky. To make it easy, we believe that both are correct, though we think he should have been consistent.

Technically, "that" is restrictive; "which" is not. In other words, if you wish to qualify (or restrict) that which you are defining, you should use "that."

Example 1: The book, which I intend to pick up, is called "Moby Dick." The clause "which I intend to pick up" is extraneous information (or not restrictive) to the sentence.

Example 2: The book that I read last week is called "Moby Dick." In this case, "that I read last week" is essential (or restrictive) to the point of the sentence.


That is such a fine line that few people attempt to draw it.

Perhaps it would help to remember it this way: use that to tell which, and which to tell that.

Or perhaps not.

We saw this promo on a popular web site: "We wanted to give our customers options on how to benefit from..."

That is a copycat mistake. It mirrors what many people say when they call into a radio talk show: "I wanted to talk about...."

Who cares what the caller "WANTED" to talk about? That's history.

It's just laziness. But, as we have said before, words mean things. If you want people to pay attention to what you say, pay attention to what you say... before you say it.

We want to separate two words that, at least for us, sit too close together: allude and illude.

Allude means to refer indirectly; illude means to deceive or trick. Simple enough.

The confusion comes with the noun versions of each word. "He often spoke about the time his fraternity was put on double-secret probation," an allusion to the travails of the boys of Delta House -- an indirect reference.

Compare that to this: "The change in lighting gives the illusion of movement" -- it tricks the eye.

So you may have to think twice, but it is worth the effort to get it right -- reminds me of what Norm Abram says about working at the table saw: "Measure twice; cut once."

This week we try to draw a line where the line may be very blurry: the distinction between "farther" and "further." Strict constructionists believe that that "farther" should be reserved for physical distance and "further" for nonphysical, metaphorical advancement.

That makes it difficult, however, for such commonly used phrases as this: "Nothing could be further from the truth." According to the rule, the proper word in that case should be "farther."

Our suggestion, then, is, when in doubt, to stick to the rule. That's easy to hold on to.

(Note that we wrote, "easy to hold on to," and not "easy on which to hold." Sometimes -- not often, but sometimes -- common usage and convenience trumps the rule.)

Our tip this time is "outta' sight!" Actually, that's just a corny way to make the connection. We received an e-mail message last week promoting a web site. In part, it read, "Check out the sight."

No; it's not a "sight"; it's a "site." Though you may see a web site, it is not a sight; it is a site.

Clear enough? Well, I think we made our point, nonetheless.

This time we focus on two very similar words that are, in fact, very different. One of our favorite boomer songs is "Hang on Sloopy," which rhymes with our favorite comic strip dog, Snoopy.

Your bedroom is sloppy when you have not cleaned it in three weeks.

When I see "Sloopy," I see Snoopy's two eyes in the middle of the word. Is it just me? Anyway, that's how I remember which is which.

This tip deals with pronunciation; specifically, the word "corpsman."

"Corpsman" is a combination of the words "corps" and "man." A corpsman is an enlisted person in the Navy or Army working in the medical field. The pronunciation of "man" is as one would expect. "Corps" is pronounced with both the "p" and the "s" silent. The same is true, then, with "corpsman"; the "p" and the "s" are silent.

Everybody knows that, huh? Well, not everybody:

So, shame on us for not making the point sooner. We could have saved some serious embarrassment. But hey; we're doing the best we can, Mr. President.

In her column in Parade Magazine, mensa maven Marilyn Vos Savant tackled the phrase “begs the question.”

Her conclusion was that, to avoid confusion, you should remove the phrase from your verbal lexicon.

I agree. “Begs the question” may sound sophisticated, but you risk using it improperly. Best to try showing your sophistication differently.

Ms. Vos Savant explains, in detail:

The English phrase “begging the question” is a descriptive (not literal) translation of the Latin term petitio principii, one of the logical fallacies identified and classified by scholars several centuries ago. The fallacy is also known as “circular reasoning”; it refers to the error of basing one’s conclusion on an assumption, often a form of the conclusion. “That begs the question,” is a complete statement. No question follows. The phrase was first misused by unwitting speakers who were trying to sound learned, but as more listeners repeated the blunder, it became so common that the term began to acquire a new meaning: “raises the question,” followed by a question.

At this point, I recommend dropping the expression entirely, for two reasons. One, if you use it correctly, almost no one will understand you, and if you explain, you’ll sound pedantic. It would be better to use the term “circular reasoning.” And two, if you intend the newer meaning, why not simply say “raises the question”? It makes more sense and sounds better. Why “begs” the question?!

Here’s a demonstration of how look like a foolish, juvenile adolescent, in a 10-second bite.

Tommy Vietor is a 30-something hot-shot wannabee in Washington. He was a spokesman for the Obama administration. A spokesman. His job involved using words, shaping messages.

In 2012, he was involved in “shaping” the talking points for Susan Rice’s infamous appearances on the Sunday talk shows after the Benghazi disaster.

This is the flippant way he repsonded to a relevant, important question about the creation of the talking points:

This would be funny, if it weren’t so pathetic.

Madam Red Dot offers a new entry in our "Brush Up Your Webster" series every Monday in the BBHQ Joke of the Week Newsletter:

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