bkswrites

Posts Tagged ‘English usage’

“The Single Greatest Country in the World”

In comparatives, redundancy again, thoughtless patterns on January 28, 2016 at 9:49 pm

Marco Rubio campaign ad

So it’s the turn of the third-place scrambler, the one with the fully Hispanic name, and it’s about an English error so common few of my writeous colleagues even notice any more. But I can’t ignore it. This time there isn’t even anyplace to put the excess word.

A superlative like “greatest” is already singular. There is none greater. Often, the “single” is simply misplaced as in, say, “I’d like to thank the single largest donor to my campaign,” one among many. Australia could be the greatest single-country continent, but I don’t see any other way to get to a greatest single country.

There could be great things for a country to do alone — humanitarian achievements, support for the arts, peacemaking — but then we’d probably use words like “solo” or indeed, “alone,” and use identification of the nation to modify something like “effort” or “action.” That might be too specific for a campaign ad, or indeed for this campaign over all.

Come to think of it, there is one thing I like about Rubio’s double superlative: It celebrates the current greatness of the USA, instead of asserting some vague past and greater greatness to which we might return. That may be all Rubio and his writers wanted, to distinguish their campaign from that other one that has made greatness its watchword. And there certainly isn’t any more greatness to which yet another campaign might aspire.

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Throughout

In compound expressions, significant insignificancies, thoughtless patterns on February 8, 2013 at 5:13 pm

A couple of weeks ago, when I grumbled about compounds that get denied the chance to go out separately, I somehow forgot to include the very significant mess made when throughout is used but through is what is really meant. This morning I was reminded by Stephanie Abrams of The Weather Channel, doing her anticipatory live standup on tonight’s possible blizzard in New York City. She referred to the difficulty of predicting how conditions might develop “throughout the next 48 hours” of storm-watching. The operative words that clash with the intensity of throughout are anticipatorypossible, and all the conditionals that come with the business of prediction.

I wouldn’t have objected if Abrams had been content to keep viewers posted throughout the weather event, but she was clearly predicting that conditions would change across her reporting period. That is, through the period. Weather forecasting happens to be one of the fields in which this distinction is more than a matter of linguistic elegance: If there is to be heavy snow throughout the night, there will be more accumulation than if blizzard conditions obtain for only some hours through the night.

It looks as though Boston is in for that kind of night, which is why the more senior TWC correspondent is set up there, on the Commons, though I’m hardly surprised to hear Jim Cantore get carried away and intensify his language without good reason. I wish they’d all calm down and just tell us what’s going on, so we can figure out how to get through

Whatever … and a few other compounds

In compound expressions, thoughtless patterns on January 25, 2013 at 9:10 pm

No, it’s not another rant against the universal and no-longer-new retort. In fact, I’ve occasionally found it useful myself. And I didn’t actually hear the title character today, but it’s been too many days since I’ve posted, and one of the kinds of abuses I said I wouldn’t criticize nevertheless reminded me of a peeve: It’s whenever folks are afraid to let a word go out on its own. They reflexively make it take along its little sister, making a compound or phrase. It’s becoming more and more rare to hear what without its ever.

The related word that set me off was on tonight’s “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS: “Whenever his wife died, he gave it to …” No, it wasn’t about a serial widower, but a one-shot bereavement and bequeathing.

A word even more often roped into nonsense by a frequent, but not necessary, companion is whether. Yes, it needs or, but if it has another alternative or two, it doesn’t need not. So many otherwise intelligent speakers of English fall into the likes of ‘Whether or not he stays or goes.’ I even hear the not doubled up: ‘Whether or not she likes it or not.’

I’m not often criticized for terseness, but compounds are not necessarily forever. Let that what, where, and whether have their independence, or find new friends. Keep in mind what all the word parts mean, and save some of them for later.

Whatever …

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