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War on Words for August

Here’s an advance look at the War on Words column that will appear in the August Out & About Magazine:

The War on Words

By Bob Yearick

A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

Close, But No Cigar …

Many Americans, including some professional journalists, have trouble with homophones – words that are pronounced the same but differ in meaning, and often differ in spelling. (Homonyms, on the other hand, are words that share the same pronunciation and the same spelling but have different meanings – e.g.: tire, the noun, and tire, the verb. All homonyms are homophones because they sound the same, but not all homophones are homonyms. Homophones with different spellings are not homonyms.)

Three recent examples, with the correct words in parentheses:

  • From      the Wilmington News Journal:      “…it is a bad thing to put undo (undue)      focus on one part of the curriculum.”
  • From a      credit union’s message to members: “We apologize for      any inconvenience this may cause you and please bare (bear) with us.” (Courtesy of reader Robbie Simon.)
  • And again from the NJ,      in a story about wearing ties: “Our students do not dawn (don) this attire …”

How Long, Oh, Lord, How Long?

(In which we record the continued abuse of that most misused punctuation mark, the apostrophe.)

From a headline for a delawareonline video: “Onboard camera shows SpaceX rocket land on its’ feet.” Really? The apostrophe following the word? Very creative.

Literally of the Month

Yep, Mika Brizinski, that blonde bundle of hyperbole who co-hosts MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” once again makes an appearance here. Here’s Mika, teasing a piece on Erik Compton, a heart transplant patient who tied for second in the U. S. Open Golf Tournament: “Stay tuned for a heart-warming story – literally.”

Media Watch

  • From the usually pristine Sports Illustrated, in a story on O. J. Simpson: “He struck a apologetic tone.” In English, there are two indefinite articles – a and an. (The is the definite article.)  SI thus seems to be joining the totally inexplicable and semi-literate trend to ignore poor old “an.” Here’s the rule: if the word following the article starts with a vowel sound, use an. If not, use a. The key word here is sound. The word doesn’t have to start with a vowel in order to require an. For instance, words with a silent “h” at the beginning require an: an hour, an honor, an honorable man.
  • WDEL announcer on a story about the discovery of a fossil tusk: “It weighed nine ton.” This is an example of an age-old linguistic problem: using singulars where plurals are called for. It weighed nine tons! (Had he said it was “a nine-ton tusk,” he would’ve been correct.) This is similar to the sloppy practice of saying “I have six pair of gloves (pants, glasses, etc.).” It’s more than one, so it should be pairs.

Writerly Peeves

We asked our contributing writers to submit their current language pet peeves. Here is Scott Pruden’s:

“It is what it is” has always struck me as the silliest, faux-Zen statement anyone could ever make. It’s just words strung together that don’t actually mean anything. I always get the feeling that it’s said just to fill conversational space and sound intellectual. In writing or formal speaking, it should never, ever appear unless it’s being mocked, criticized or satirized.

Look for more peeves from our writers in future issues. And if you have one that absolutely bugs you, send it in — we may use it.

Word of the Month


A verb, it means to play music or perform entertainment in a public place, usually while soliciting money. So the guy strumming a guitar at Philly’s 30th Street Station, his guitar case open in front of him, is busking.

A secondary meaning in clothing and fashion: a strip of whalebone, wood, steel, etc., inserted into the front of a corset to stiffen it. Sometimes, the corset itself.

Seen a good (or bad) one lately? Send candidates to

Buy The War on Words paperback at, at Ninth Street Books in Wilmington, the Hockessin Book Shelf, or on Amazon.




Movie & TV Gaffes

After spotting many language gaffes in movies and TV shows over the years, I recently began recording them. Here’s my current (very short) list. If you have any to add, let me know.

  1. From the HBO series The Wire: A sign in police headquarters over the men’s room reads, “For officer’s only.” Ah, the continuing saga of the grocer’s apostrophe.
  2. In the same category, I came across this while watching a moment or two of the current Showtime series Penny Dreadful: A plaque on the door to The Explorers Club is misrepresented with “The Explorer’s Club.” Talk about exclusive!
  3. From the 1986 film Manhunter, based on Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon: A newspaper headline reads, “FBI Persues Pervert.” That’s pursues, of course. Seems that Hollywood often neglects to proofread its “newspapers.”
  4. And finally, from the 2012 movie Parental Guidance, we have Billy Crystal saying to Bette Midler, “You must’ve sang that to the kids a hundred times.” The past and present perfect of some verbs are a challenge for many people, including, apparently, Hollywood writers.



Journalists: Want to see a great lead?

Check the Godzilla review, titled “Big Guy,” by Anthony Lane in the current New Yorker. Here’s the first sentence: “Wrinkled and crinkled, huge in Japan, heroically reluctant to give up, and forever touring the world on a mission to make us scream, Godzilla is the Mick Jagger of giant amphibians.”

Now that, folks, is writing!



Sneak Peek (Is there another kind of peek?)

For those who can’t wait for the June issue of Out & About Magazine, here’s the next War on Words column:

Department of Redundancies Dept.
 From a TV commercial for a tax consulting firm: “We’ll meet with you in person, face to face.”
 During the broadcast of college basketball game, the announcer said that one of
the players had “a second chance opportunity.”
 Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC’s Morning Joe continues to be a “War” favorite. She recently redundantly uttered the phrases “past experiences” and “future plans” in the same sentence.

Media Watch
• A reader submits this from Delaware Lawyer: “…he was fortunate in his career to have opportunities present themselves at the right moments for both he and DuPont.” Like many semi-learned people, the author couldn’t bring herself to use the correct “him.” Just doesn’t sound sophisticated, you know? Prepositions (between, for, in, around, up, down, under, over, etc.) require objective case pronouns (her, him, me, them, us, whom).
• Another reader spotted this amazingly off-target delawareonline caption: “Members of the Patriot Guard Riders can be scene through the strips of an American flag.”
• Son Steven came across a commercial for the Philadelphia Flyers that included this line: “Remembering the moments we will never soon forget.” The sentence boggles the mind, but here’s our edit: “Moments we will never forget.”
• Reader Karen Foster, of Hockessin, noted that the News Journal described the new Westin Hotel in Wilmington as being decorated in a “palate” of white, gray, and taupe. “Palette” — an artist’s paint board or a range of colors — was the word the reporter was groping for. “Palate” refers to the roof of the mouth or the sense of taste. Says Karen: “I guess that could be called tasteful decorating?”

No Bull
A locally prominent lawyer, commenting on the fairness of a controversial judge, was quoted in the News Journal thus: “I have had my ax gored by her.” First, we know this guy, and he’s pretty smart, so we’re sure he said “ox,” not ax. He was using a variation of an old phrase/metaphor, “It all depends on whose ox is being gored.” Supposedly derived from a Bible passage, it means that an event will be seen differently depending on the viewer’s degree of self-interest.

Oh, Those Politicians
In the absence of a Joe Biden item, we’re going with this one from Thomas Menino, who just completed 21 years as mayor of Boston. Noted for his malapropisms, Menino once called the city’s parking shortage “an Alcatraz around my neck.” That would be albatross, of course.

Literally of the Month
“The Phillies had to literally hold on in the ninth to win the game.” —WDEL sports report.

Prepositions R Us
Sometime I feel as if I’m in a foreign country when it comes to English usage. This is especially true lately regarding the misuse of prepositions in certain phrases and expressions. Recent examples:
 From the News Journal: “It resulted largely by a vote from a majority of the denomination’s congregants.” The correct expression is “resulted from.”
 “I’m bored of … this book, this movie, this person.” This error is proliferating among the unlettered. Help “War” stamp it out! You can be bored by or with, but you aren’t bored of.
 From a recent email sent to “War”: “I did it on accident.” I had never encountered this aberration until a few years ago, but it too is growing in frequency. The correct phrase, of course, is by accident.
 From a press release: “In observance for his service …” The correct preposition is of.

Add to our list of people who don’t know their nomenclature: coffee drinkers who pronounce it “expresso.” It’s espresso.

Word of the Month
o Pronounced di-ˈtrī-təs, it’s a noun meaning debris or discarded material.

Quotation of the Month: “A man will be forgiven even great errors in a foreign language; but in his own, even the least slips are justly laid hold of and ridiculed.” Lord Chesterfield, Letters to His Son (1749). (Our comment: Here, here!)

And finally, we heard Shaquille O’Neal last night praise Blake Griffin’s play in the Clippers-Thunder series. “He’s not takin’ any accomplices,” said Shaq. Uh, that would be prisoners, big guy.



Penn State Game Badges for the 2014 Season

Below are my suggestions. Send yours.

Penn State game badges, 2014:
Aug. 30 — Central Florida: “Good night, Knights”
Sept. 6 – Akron: “Akron Gets Zip”
Sept. 13 – Rutgers: “Scarlet Gets Bloodied”
Sept. 20 – Massachusetts: “Over in a Minute, Man!”
Sept. 27 – Northwestern: “No, N’western”
Oct. 11 – Michigan: “Ann Arbor Is Easy”
Oct. 25 – Ohio State: “Deflower the Buckeyes”
Nov. 1 – Maryland: “Shell the Terps”
Nov. 8—Indiana: “Indiana Hoo??”
Nov. 15 – Temple: “What a Hoot!”
Nov. 22 – Illinois: “Scalp the Illini”
Nov. 29 – Michigan State: “Lions Feast on Spartan Diet”



May War on Words

Once again, for my legion (ahem!) of readers, here is an advance look (No, not a “sneak peek” — what a cliché!) at the next column, which hits the streets in O&A Magazine on May 1. Enjoy.

The War on Words
By Bob Yearick
A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

Cease and Desist, Please

OK, it’s time to put a stop to the use of the contraction “there’s” followed by a plural noun. E.g.:

— There’s more people using Twitter than ever before.
— There’s a million things to do.
— There’s several ways to look at this.

Stop and think a minute: You would never write or say “there is several ways …” – would you (and you know who you are)?

Literally of the Month
Wichita State basketball coach about his team’s trip to the Big Dance: “It was literally a magic carpet ride.” And no, his name is not Aladdin.

Media Watch
• Headline on MSNBC: “Crisis in Ukraine sure to dominant talks.” The word is dominate. Dominant is the adjective.
• In a case of “say it ain’t so,” a New Yorker article contained this: “He graduated college …” The phrase, as we’ve said again and again in this losing battle, is “graduated from college.” Colleges graduate students; students don’t graduate colleges.
• In our March issue, a Philip Seymour Hoffman film at Theatre N was listed as Before the Devil Knows Your Dead. Should be you’re, of course.
• From a WHYY online story: “The controversy stems over the involvement of Velda Jones-Potter, the city’s former chief strategy advisor.” That’s “stems from.”

Now and then, we tip our hat to someone who rises above the semi-literacy that dominates (there’s that word again) our media. Tirdad Derakhshani of The Philadelphia Inquirer is such a person. In a review of John Leguizamo’s one-man show, he wrote: “Instead of homing in on one topic, as he did in his earlier shows …” Mr. Derakhshani thus becomes one of, oh, five or six people in the western world who use the correct “homing in” instead of “honing in.” To hone is to sharpen.

• Deirdre Imus, a frequent guest on her hubby’s Fox Business Network show, adds a syllable to “athletic.” Like so many people, she inexplicably pronounces it ath-a-letic.
• And did you know? In vehicle, the “-h-” is not pronounced. It’s /VEE-i-kuhl/.

Nomenclature (continued)
Add to the list of people who misuse words common to their profession or hobby: “grammarians” who spell it “grammer.”

Meaningless Plurals
And April reminded us of yet another calendar event that creates an incorrect plural that can be added to “Happy New Years” and “Daylight Savings Time”: “April Fools!” – shouted by someone who has just perpetrated one of those crude, often cruel practical jokes. Yes, it’s April Fool’s (note apostrophe) Day, but the expression is “April Fool!”

Celebrity Corner

Without scripts, actors often mangle the language.
• Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, in her acceptance speech, used “exacerbate” to mean “enhanced,” which has virtually the opposite meaning. She thanked presenter Daniel Day-Lewis with these words: “Thank you, Mr. Day-Lewis. From you it exacerbates this honor and blows it right out of the ballpark.”
• Jane Lynch, the giantess gym coach of Glee fame, was on Jimmy Kimmel, talking about stars mispronouncing names and words during the Oscar telecast. “I felt badly for them,” she said. Now we feel bad for you, Jane. To feel badly would describe tactile problems, to have trouble related to touch.

Less/Fewer/Amount/Number– Again!
From a Concord Pet ad: “February has the least amount of days.” Rather than this awkward phrase, it should be simply fewest days. Or, less succinctly, fewest number of days.

Word of the Month
Pronounced i-DAS-i-tee, it’s a noun meaning greediness; good appetite.

Quotation of the Month: “A man will be forgiven even great errors in a foreign language; but in his own, even the least slips are justly laid hold of and ridiculed.” Lord Chesterfield, Letters to His Son (1749).

Seen a good (or bad) one lately? Send candidates to
Buy The War on Words paperback at, at Ninth Street Books in Wilmington, the Hockessin Book Shelf, or on Amazon.



More quotes

"Lady I ain’t no athlete, I’m a baseball player" - John Kruk, former Phillie and current ESPN analyst

Above is from “Anonymous.” Another good’n. Only there should be a comma after “Lady.”

"Coupon Sail"

Mr. Yearick,

I saw many signs in Great Clips on Route 202 advertising their annual “Coupon Sail”  Fortunately, I still received the lower price despite not have a coupon to sail anywhere.  Thank goodness too, because I had no idea where to sail the coupon.  All I can hope is that the coupon was traveling somewhere warmer than Delaware has been recently.  Hope you can use this in your column!




See the April Column Now

For my faithful followers — both of you — here’s an advance look (not a “sneak peek”) at the War on Words column that will appear in the April issue of O&A:

The War on Words
By Bob Yearick
A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

Hard to Believe, Harry
As the Phillies season gets underway, let us hark back to a few years ago, when Comcast commentator Ricky Bottalico uttered the legendary line: “This is a team which just exhumes energy.” Never mind his misuse of “which” (should be “that”), the major mistake was exhumes. It means to disinter, or dig up (as in a body). What the Rickster meant was “exudes.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.
Verizon customer service recorded message: “At the present time, all representatives are currently assisting other customers.”

Media Watch
• On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the co-author of the Hillary Clinton bio HRC said that Bill Clinton’s role in Hillary’s presidential campaign will be “emulated after” his role in Obama’s campaign. It may be patterned after his role in that campaign, and he may emulate that role, but “emulate after” is a grievous grammatical construction from a supposedly literate author.
• From an AP story: “If offense was the only requirement, Auburn would be a shoe-in for the BCS championship.” The term is shoo-in, which means to urge something in a desired direction, usually by waving one’s arms. The idea behind the word is that the person or thing being shooed is such a sure thing that we can shoo him, her or it in without hesitation.

And the Corporate Semi-Literate Award goes to …
Ford, for a trifecta of grammatical gaffes in its TV commercials:
1. “Go Further” – The slogan, introduced two years ago, uses “further,” the metaphorical or figurative form of the word. It would seem more logical for a car manufacturer to use “farther,” which denotes actual physical distance.
2. Another theme is “Ford Can’t Be Beat.” That last word, of course, should be beaten.
3. And there’s a commercial for Ford pickup trucks in which one actor says something like: “I’m a Chevy guy.” [then, referring to another actor nearby] “Him and his brother own Dodges.” That would be “He and his brother.”

Calling a Penalty
Amazing how many TV types (especially on the sports side) pronounce “penalize” as if it were spelled peen-alize, the first syllable sounding the same as in ball-peen hammer. That initial syllable should sound like the word pin.

To Review

We’ve covered these in the past, but it’s time to revisit them:
Averse/adverse – These words are often confused, but their meanings are totally different.
Adverse means unfavorable, contrary or hostile, and is never be applied to humans. Example: “Adverse weather conditions.”
Averse means unwilling, disinclined or loath and is almost always followed by “to.” It applies to a person – e.g., “He was averse to discussing the conference.”
Gamut/Gambit – Gamut is a full range or extent, literally of musical notes, but more often figuratively of anything (“The menu offered the gamut of dining options”).
Gambit is a ploy, maneuver, or strategy, such as “the opening gambit of the chess match.” Misusing “gambit” for “gamut” is an increasingly common malapropism.
Ironic does not mean any kind of amusing coincidence. It means the opposite (outcome) of what was expected; contrary to expectation. E.g., the name of Britain’s largest dog is “Tiny.” Now that’s an ironic name!

Bemused does not mean mildly amused. It means bewildered, confused, engrossed in thought.

How Long, Oh Lord, How Long?
In which we report the continuing abuse of the apostrophe.)
A reader spotted this sign in a sandwich shop in Elmwood Park, N. J.: “Line form’s to the right.” Really? It never ends, does it?

Nomenclature (continued)
Add to the list of people who misuse words common to their profession or hobby: “Grammarians” who spell it “grammer.”

Word of the Month
Pronounced sen-tient or sen-shunt, it’s an adjective meaning conscious: capable of feeling and perception.

Quotation of the Month:
“I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagraming sentences.” —- Gertrude Stein, “Poetry and Grammar” (1935), in Perspectives on Style, 1968. (Our comment: Gertie needed to get out more.)

Seen a good (or bad) one lately? Send candidates to Also, if you need a speaker for your book group, service club, etc., contact me for an entertaining power point presentation about the quirks of the English language.

Buy The War on Words paperback at, at Ninth Street Books in Wilmington, the Hockessin Book Shelf, or on Amazon.



March Column

Here, for all you readers of the website (both of you) is an advance look at the March War on Words. Enjoy!

The War on Words
By Bob Yearick
A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

Hard to Believe, Harry
In keeping with the Phillies flavor in this issue, we bring back our feature that honors the late, great Richie Ashburn, who used this phrase when describing an unbelievable baseball incident to Harry Kalas, his late, great broadcast partner.
All from the News Journal:
• First, a dangling modifier in an editorial about Wilmington’s former police chief: “Like her predecessor, the difficulty of reducing a continual stream of violent crime …” “Like her predecessor” does not describe the difficulty, it refers to the police chief.
• In a story about donating coats: “Donations will be excepted through February.” The word, of course, is accepted.
• Another editorial column contained this mess of a sentence, which lacked the articles “the” and “a,” a comma, and also included a misplaced comma: “But one thing is certain, [the] city’s residents and its reputation, [no comma needed] are in dire need of [a] well-strategized [comma needed] better path forward on public safety.”
• In an article about a cemetery, there was this: “Markiewicz poured through more than 100 years of cemetery records.” The word is pored.

Correct Commas
Speaking of commas, people insist on putting them after titles – e.g., “Secretary of State, John Kerry”; “Obama worshipper, Warren Buffet.” No comma is needed, folks.

Winter Freeze-Out
The recent snow storms revealed a blind spot in the vocabularies of many TV weather people. Subfreezing temperatures compelled them to describe said temps as ar-tic. The word is arctic and the first c is pronounced — ark-tik.
And a reader overhead these other weather-related gaffes:
“If you have to go out, buckle up and drive safe.” That’s safely.
And here’s a candidate for Literally of the Month: “It’s literally snowing cats and dogs.”
Permutations of “Text”

Being somewhat new to the language, “texting” and its derivations are causing linguistic challenges for some of us. A reader has noticed a number of people who use “text” as the past tense of the verb to text, as in: “He text me the information yesterday.” She writes: “They seem to think that texted ‘just doesn’t sound right’ — at least that’s how one young woman explained it to me.” Sorry if it’s aurally offensive, folks, but “texted” is the correct past tense.
We also heard a radio talk show host refer to “textes” as the plural of text. It’s simply texts.
Here are (not here’s!) a few words we’ve heard recently that simply don’t exist (Remove the prefixes “ir” or “un” and you have the correct word): irregardless, unmercillesly, unrelentlessly, uncategorically.
Also …
Reader Jane Buck adds this one: incidences. “I’ve heard this many times recently,” Jane says, “usually from the mouth of a newsperson: ‘This was one of several incidences.’ Confusion between ‘instance’ and ‘incident’?”
And then there’s …
“Recouping,” as in this quote in Esquire from Jerry of Ben & Jerry fame: “I hit my head and wound up on the floor. Ben, being the good friend that he is, came and lay down next to me while I was recouping.” Getting over an illness (or a head injury), is recuperating. If you are at the roulette table getting back your losses, you are recouping them.

Department of Redundancies Dept.
We heard an ESPN announcer intone thus: “It’s was a harbinger of things to come.” Harbinger: anything that foreshadows a future event.

Nomenclature (continued)
To last month’s list of professionals who don’t know the nomenclature of their professions, add funeral directors who spell it “condolances.”

Word of the Month
Pronounced SOF-ist, it’s a noun meaning one who makes clever but unsound arguments.

Quotation of the Month: “Respecting the difference between words is not about being pedantic or pompous or even perfectionist. It just means we can express ourselves more clearly.”
— John Humphrys, Lost for Words: The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language.

Seen a good (or bad) one lately? Send candidates to

Buy The War on Words paperback at, at Ninth Street Books in Wilmington, the Hockessin Book Shelf, or on Amazon.