bkswrites

Posts Tagged ‘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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Happy New Year’s (and Beyond)

In significant insignificancies, thoughtless patterns on January 1, 2016 at 1:31 am

It’s an annual grumble of mine, mostly in places where I’ve sworn not to pick at people’s grammar, that well-meaning writers, with little more than an apostrophe, limit their good wishes to a single day. It’s clear to me that they don’t know they’re doing that when they leave off the designation “Day” that should follow the -’s. But it’s clearly a matter of carelessness.

Maybe it’s that we’ve forgotten what this “wishing” thing is about. It’s not just something you say, but an expression of hope for another’s well-being, or literally for that other’s happiness. It’s all too easily tossed off, in fact easier in currently fraught contexts than “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.”

Everyone gets a new year, whether we like it or not, whether or not we make resolutions and see it as a fresh start. But I’m always for mindfulness, for paying as much attention to what I say as to what I do. To say it without thought devalues it, and maybe that’s what makes me question the sincerity of an Internet conversant — or even a grocery clerk — who tosses it to me with the -’s and without the Day. I really would like to have all the wishes for happiness in 2016 that I can get. I do think it matters.

Thus, I wish you happiness in 2016, heartfelt wishes even if I don’t have an opportunity to say it more directly and warmly than in this post. The whole year. Happiness and joy.

While we’re at it, that’s not “well wishes.” Where you get your water is your business.

“Nancy Pelosi is incredible!”

In lost meanings, thoughtless patterns on January 25, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Sure as I am that Siobhan “Sam” Bennet, president of the Women’s Campaign Fund, meant that as an enthusiastic compliment when she said it on a recent episode of PBS’s “To the Contrary,” I just as surely wish she wouldn’t provide fodder for nitpicky critics. In fact, I wish we all could find some better words for expressing our admiration than those that imply the person or idea is literally too good to be true. Women like Rep. Pelosi — or Bennet, for that matter — are not fantastic or in any general way unbelievable. Neither are they terrific. Wonderful, maybe, but not wonderous.

Late in September, I was pleased to hear, on another public-broadcasting staple, “Fresh Air with Terry Gross,” a very funny exchange in which she teased author JR Moehringer with his published dislike for the overused “awesome.” They also touched on “amazing.” But at least those two mean what they’re overused to say, even if most applications actually fall short of the power those words should carry.

I just hate to see words lose their real meanings. When we have plenty of truly incredible politicians around, let’s find a way to get enthusiastic about the credibility of the others.

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