Archive for Usage

"Literally CVS"

In at least two recent interviews, Eric Trump has objected to his father's recent indictment by complaining about the lack of prosecutorial attention to the factors leading NYC drugstores (he says) to lock up Tylenol and Advil. On Fox News:

And this is a city — I spend a lot of time in New York —
that is falling apart. I went into literally CVS the other day
and you can't buy Tylenol because it's locked behind these
glass counters

And on NewsMax:

I went to Duane Reade the other day
and literally you can't buy Advil in Duane Reade
without having somebody come up with a key and unlock
you know those little plastic things that you pick up

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The French?

Roger Cohen, "The French Want to Remain The French", NYT 1/27/2023:

As an exercise in style, the tweet from The Associated Press Stylebook appeared to strain taste and diplomacy: “We recommend avoiding general and often dehumanizing ‘the’ labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, the college educated.”

At least it looked offensive to the French, or perhaps rather to people of Frenchness, or people with Gallic inclinations, or people under the influence of French civilization. The French noted that they had been placed between the “mentally ill” and the “disabled.”

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TIL: You can 'eke out' a bad situation

I've always associated the phrase eke out with cases where what's eked out is something good. That's the implication of the Merriam-Webster entry:

1: to make up for the deficiencies of : SUPPLEMENT
eked out his income by getting a second job
2: to make (a supply) last by economy

And similarly from the Wiktionary entry:

1. (transitive) To supplement.
The old man eked out his pension by selling vegetables from his garden.
2. (transitive) To obtain with difficulty or effort.
He eked out a living selling vegetables from the garden.

Wiktionary's etymology supports this view:

From obsolete eke (“to add to, augment; to increase”) + out.

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Um, same words again?

Paul Krugman, "Why America Is Getting Tough on Trade", NYT 12/12/2022:

Since 1948 trade among market economies has been governed by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which sets certain ground rules for, um, tariffs and trade.

This quotation illustrates two things we've previously covered — avoiding re-use of words and phrases ("Ask LLOG: Re-use considered harmful?", 12/5/2022), and "awkward UM" ("Um, tapes?", 1/29/2019, and "UM/UH Geography", 8/13/2014).


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Ask LLOG: Re-use considered harmful?

From RfP:

I’m one of those writers who will do just about anything to avoid using the same word—or, worse yet, the same phrase—within a short run of text. So imagine my horror this morning when, after hastily responding to a comment on your post about “Parse depth in essays vs. novels”, I noticed the following:

Although he is indeed making a case for the combination of text and images in “static print,” as becomes clear in the rest of the paragraph from which I have drawn this excerpt, I feel one can also infer that this quote provides yet one more reason for authors to make their case with, shall we say, salients rather than by means of a lengthy siege.

In spite of my haste in composing this comment, I still took care to ensure that I had spelled everything correctly, and that my syntax was appropriate for the formal register that I was using for my comment.

And I did happen to notice that I had used “one” twice within the same clause, but since that word was used in two different senses and I was in a hurry, I decided to let it stand.

After noticing—and agonizing over—my error with the phrase, I wondered about why this attitude is so deeply ingrained. So I decided to ask you about it, in hopes that there’s an underlying linguistic issue behind it.

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Ask LLOG: "Big dumb hat" v. "Dumb little dog"

From T.S.:

I have read before about English’s very rigid adjective order – we say “nice green chair” not “green nice chair”.

A recent (not very funny) sketch on Saturday Night Live featured Amy Schumer extolling the virtues of wearing a “Big dumb hat”. The punchline was that this accessorises perfectly with a “Dumb little dog”.

“Big dumb hat” sounds right and “Dumb big hat” sound wrong.

“Dumb little dog” sounds right and “Little dumb dog” sounds wrong.

Whither English’s rigid adjective order?

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"Ethical misconduct"?

"Another Trump appointee provides a lesson in ethical misconduct", WaPo 11/5/2022:

The Office of the Inspector General issued a report last month identifying a series of “administrative, ethical and policy violations” by J. Brett Blanton, appointed by President Donald Trump and sworn in in early 2020.

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Ask LLOG: "take the vaccine" vs. "get the vaccine"

A few days ago, G.W. sent a question about this tweet:

G.W.'s question:

I noticed was that he writes "take the vaccine," rather than "get the vaccine." To me, "take" sounds just wrong — I feel like the verb we use for injections is "get." And I wondered if "take" would make it sound more like the vaccine is an evil Big Government imposition, which the recipients passively accept (as in "take it lying down"), as compared to something you might "get" which would be more of an actively sought-after benefit. From googling, it looks like both "take" and "get" are fairly common, actually; but is there a way to find out if vaccine-skeptics and/or Republicans are more likely to use "take"?

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Failing adequately

The prohibition against placing an adverb between "to" and a following verb was once one of the most widespread Zombie Rules in English — here's Wikipedia on the history of the "Split infinitive" controversy. As Geoff Pullum wrote in 2018, the zombies have recently been losing: "At last, a split infinitive in The Economist"; "Infinitives Can Be Split: Grammar Conservatives Face the Shock". And the (related, but even stupider) "split verb rule" infection has never spread very widely.

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After uttering that affirmation in response to Peter Grubtal's wish (here) that "the [Butkara] stupa doesn't get destroyed like many other Buddhist relics in that area" — thinking of the Taliban and Bamiyan — I worried that what I said may have been too Christian and Jewish.  Upon reflection, however, I realized that nothing could be more ecumenical (in the broadest sense) than "Amen":

Amen (Hebrew: אָמֵן, ʾāmēn; Ancient Greek: ἀμήν, amḗn; Classical Syriac: ܐܡܝܢ, 'amīn; Arabic: آمين, ʾāmīn) is an Abrahamic declaration of affirmation which is first found in the Hebrew Bible, and subsequently found in the New Testament. It is used in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim practices as a concluding word, or as a response to a prayer. Common English translations of the word amen include "verily", "truly", "it is true", and "let it be so". It is also used colloquially, to express strong agreement.

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Micro- Nano-Stylistic Variation

"Don't miss the most loved conference by Delphists like you!"

Philip Taylor wrote to complain about that phrase, which apparently arrived in an email advertisement:

"The most loved conference …" ? I would have written "The conference most loved …".

But his preference apparently disagrees, not only with the author of that flyer, but also with most other writers of English. And it's wonderful how easily we can now check such things. As Yogi Berra (may have) said, "Sometimes you can see a lot just by looking".

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A grammar of quickstick errors

Chopsticks:  in cookery, designates:

a pair of thin sticks, of ivory, wood, etc, used as eating utensils by the Chinese, Japanese, and other people of East Asia
[C17: from pidgin English, from chop quick, of Chinese dialect origin + stick1]

Collins English DictionaryComplete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014

That's for the English word, now for the Chinese:

The Old Chinese words for "chopsticks" were zhù (OC *das) and jiā (OC *keːb).  Zhù is preserved in almost all Min dialects (Taiwanese , ; Fuzhou dê̤ṳ) and some other dialects, especially those in some contact with Min; it is also preserved in loans to other languages, e.g., Korean 젓가락 (jeotgarak), Vietnamese đũa and Zhuang dawh. Starting from the Ming Dynasty, the change to kuàizi 筷子 occurred in Mandarin, Wu, and some Cantonese dialects. The 15th century book Shuyuan Miscellanies (《菽園雜記》) by Lu Rong (陸容) mentioned this change:


As the mariners feared (“to stay”) […], they called zhù (“chopsticks”) kuàier 快兒 (lit. "quick + diminutive suffix").  [VHM:  alt. "As the mariners had a taboo against "lingering / staying", they called zhù (“chopsticks”) kuàier 快兒 (lit. "quick + diminutive suffix").

The bamboo radical (zhu [the sound is not relevant here) was later added to kuài to form kuài .

(source, with some additions by VHM)

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Fall between / through the cracks

Although I know it's illogical, I've always said "fall between the cracks", and most people I know say that too.  In retrospect, it makes more sense to say "fall through the cracks".

Mark Swofford did a bit of ngram research on the matter:

It looks like the expression kicked off mainly in the 1960s. Interestingly, "between" seems to have had a small edge early on; but a look at the sources reveals a lot of government documents that appear to be transcripts (i.e., recorded speech rather than formal writing that went through an editor).

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