A Few Words About–Words

As a former English teacher and proofreader and a current lawyer, I get easily upset by abuse of the English language.  First there are the redundancies—you know, like “ATM machine,” “HIV virus,” and “PIN number.”  This summer’s biggies are “Latina woman” and the subject line of emails, which these days almost always reads: “Subject: re: whatever.”  “Re:” means “subject.”  (I think some people think it’s short for “regarding.” It isn’t. “Re” is Latin for “thing,” literally.)

Then there is the use of quotation marks as what one commentator has called the poor man’s boldface.  Now that everybody has boldface, can’t we just restrict quotes to their original purpose—indicating the reproduction of somebody else’s words?  Apparently that was part of the problem with Sarah Palin’s use of the phrases “death panel” and “level of productivity in society.”  The elitist literate few actually thought she was referring to something somebody else had said, and faulted her for not naming her source. In fact, she was just being snarky, which should have surprised nobody.

Again yesterday I heard the word “foreclosure” pronounced on NPR with the accent on the first syllable. Where on earth does that come from?

Have I missed some real bloopers?

Jane Grey

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