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I just received this email from my alma mater… I can’t say I’ll have any comments on events that “peak” my interest, but I CAN say I’m slightly embarrassed to have graduated from their technical writing department. (But, of course, I still love my school… Go Blue Hens!)

I just received this email from my alma mater… I can’t say I’ll have any comments on events that “peak” my interest, but I CAN say I’m slightly embarrassed to have graduated from their technical writing department. (But, of course, I still love my school… Go Blue Hens!)



The September Column

As is my wont (what a quaint word), I’m posting the next War on Words column here almost a full month before it appears in the dead-tree edition of Out & About Magazine. For both my readers, enjoy, and give me your feedback.

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

Department of Redundancies Dept.

Sharknado 2, that social phenomenon that befouled television sets one regrettable evening in late July, at least gave us a contribution to “War.” Weather guru Al Roker, camping it up as himself, called the tornado/shark shower “a rare anomaly.” Really, Al? As opposed to a common anomaly?

Our favorite editorial page columnist at the Wilmington News Journal recently wrote this, in the very first sentence: “Pore through the annals of history on sexual abuse …”

Media Watch

“It is never OK to put your hands on a women.” – Stephen a. Smith in his mea culpa tweet regarding the Ray Rice suspension by the NFL. And then there was this headline from Infinity by Comcast: “80-year-old women gets makeover”

Why, oh why, do so many people – men and women — get this simple word wrong? Once again: woman is singular, women is plural.

Similarly, it’s womankind, not womenkind. The latter would be redundant, since “-kind” includes all members of the sex. It would be like using “menkind” in place of “mankind” – a mistake that never seems to be made.

Reader J. D. Metzger, of Wilmington, submits (by snail mail, of all things) this subhead from a recent issue of BetterInvesting: “No pier pressure.” That would be peer.

And then there was this headline on a letter to the NJ: “Iraq plan squashed by partisanship.” The letter did not contain that phrase or the correct “plan quashed by partisanship.”

Readers’ Pet Peeves

Last month we asked for pet peeves from readers. Among the readers who responded:

Jason Scott, of Middletown: “Anxious used as a synonym for excited or eager. E. g., ‘The kids are anxious to leave for Disney World.’ Are they fearful of the giant mouse?”

Long-time reader Debbie Layton: “Aside from the misuse of apostrophes, one of my pet peeves is the use of ‘what’ in the middle of a sentence. A recent News-Journal article said, ‘Hayes sold the Radish Farm house in March 2008 for 14 percent less than what he paid for it.’

“And another from a different source: ‘Evergreen spends about a dollar less than what California spends.’”

We Recommend …

Several readers alerted me to a Weird Al Yankovic video titled “Word Crimes,” which you can find here: Please, set aside any negative thoughts you may have about Weird Al and check it out.

How Long, Oh, Lord, How Long?

A loyal reader submits this from a thank-you letter stating that she “… received neither good’s nor services for your gift.” The letter was half right, anyway.

And in a rare case of a missing apostrophe, we saw this sign in the window of a Market Street store: “Fine mens clothing since 1935.”


The name of the famous tennis tournament held in England in June and early July is pronounced WiM-buhl-duhn, not WiM-buhl-tuhn.

Also, let’s hope that by the end of the baseball season sports talk show hosts and fans learn that Ryne Sandberg’s first name is one syllable (Rine), not two (Ry-an).

And a note to all those who drop the “g” in recognize: don’t. It’s not pronounced reca-nize.


Foodies sometimes call themselves gourmands, thinking it’s a special way to say “gourmet.” While both words mean someone who is fond of food, a gourmet is a connoisseur, a person with refined taste in food and drink. Gourmand refers to someone who is extremely (and often excessively) fond of eating and drinking.

Literally of the Month

“They had to pull some rabbits out of the hat – in some cases, quite literally” – MLB announcer, speaking of the Tampa Bay Rays’ win streak. Maybe they should be renamed the Tampa Bay Magicians.

Word (term?) of the Month

sine qua non 

Pronounced si-ni-kwä-nän, it’s a noun meaning something indispensable or essential. E.g., “patience is a sine qua non for this job.”

Quote of the Month

“Prose is not necessarily good because it obeys the rules of syntax, but it is fairly certain to be bad if it ignores them.”

— Wilson Follett, Modern American Usage: A Guide (1966).

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.



Home in vs. hone in …

The former is the correct term, although the incorrect “hone in” rears its ugly head all too often. Probably it will be accepted by the descriptivists soon. Reminds me of this quote, from Garner’s usage tip of the day: “Rarely do the preservationists — the ones who want to keep traditional distinctions — prevail. But that doesn’t mean the struggle is in vain. To the contrary: it means that these speakers and writers will be better equipped, among their contemporaries, to avoid stumbling and thrashing about in the language. Among astute listeners and readers, they’ll have a higher degree of credibility. There’s much to be said for that.”



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.”