Tag Archives: word usage

Curb your enthusiasm

I’m steeped in amusement today
By a goof that keeps coming my way.
At least twice I have seen it
So it’s time that we clean it
From the phrases that some of us say.

Consider the little word curb;
It’s used as a noun and a verb.
Appetite or enthusiasm
Or or a bad muscle spasm,
It means to control or disturb.

A curb is a physical restraint;
With that use I have no complaint.
Curbside pickup or check-in,
Correct uses without reckon
But “a steep learning curb” it ain’t!

Note: Learning curb is a good example of an “eggcorn.” Have you more to throw into the basket?

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Regime change

Twice recently, I noticed a system of healthful habits being described as a regime.

The first reference was in a rerun of The Dick Van Dyke Show, in which Sally Rogers referred to her new diet regime. My ear twitched a bit, recognizing a potential misuse of regimen, while I also considered it might have been a colloquialism of its time some half a century ago.

Then yesterday, I read the same use in the Washington Post’s Health & Science section, in which the author of a recent book assured readers that, in order to age healthfully, they needn’t “go all out with a major fitness regime…” Prior to this, the only regimes I’d read about in the Post were systems of governmental power. I made a note to investigate.

My first scratch into the matter had me feeling pretty cocky. Indeed, the definitions I located defined a regime as a form of government (e.g., a fascist regime), a government in power, a prevailing social system or pattern, a period during which a particular administration or system prevails.

My cockiness wilted when I read an alternate definition—“a regulated system, as of diet and exercise; a regimen”—but I had just enough left to fuel one more regimen-related peeve.

Healthy Regiment

Healthy Regiment

I have a friend who likes to refer to her “regiment” of eating fruits and vegetables. My friend is not alone; the internet has no shortage of references to healthy regiments.

No matter how you slice your produce, there’s no room to rationalize that one. A regiment is an army unit. Period.

One of my favorite sources of analysis on such matters, the Visual Thesaurus, has a thoughtful explanation of regime v. regimen, pulling from various medical publications and etymological authorities to compare the two. They explain that regimen and regime are known as “doublets,” two words that have entered the language from the same source by different routes. They further advise, “If you use regime, you can be confident that you have a couple of centuries of accepted usage on your side. But if you want to make sure you don’t set off anyone’s pet-peeve alarms, stick with regimen.”

So technically, Sally Rogers and the Post are correct, though regime in this context appears to still bother many healthcare professionals. And me.

Nevertheless, Visual Thesaurus states, “Anyone who confuses regimen and regiment betrays ignorance of an elementary verbal distinction.”

They said it, not I.

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Array we go

For some time, a tattered scrap of paper amid the stacks on my desk has been reminding me to investigate three words, their relationship to one another and the proper use of articles and prepositions around them.

There’s no time like the present, even though I have a myriad of other things to do. Or was that a panoply? Or a plethora?

If you bristled at “a myriad of,” hoping for a Gotcha, simmer down.

I too believed myriad was an adjective modifying a noun, not a noun requiring an “a” before and an “of” after. That’s what I was taught anyway. Weren’t you? Myriad things to do, not a myriad of

Well I looked it up, and numerous (myriad, perhaps) experts agree with Miriam-Webster that myriad is both an adjective and a noun:

“Recent criticism of the use of myriad as a noun, both in the plural form myriads and in the phrase a myriad of, seems to reflect a mistaken belief that the word was originally and is still properly only an adjective. As the entries here show, however, the noun is in fact the older form, dating to the 16th century. The noun myriad has appeared in the works of such writers as Milton (plural myriads) and Thoreau (a myriad of), and it continues to occur frequently in reputable English. There is no reason to avoid it.” (Personally, I’d be inclined to come out of the 16th century and stick with the adjective.)

So, in my second sentence of this post, did I use myriad correctly? Probably not. Literally and traditionally, myriad means ten thousand. Yes, I do have myriad things to do but not 10,000. It is also said: to mean a great number, innumerable or a large number of unspecified size.

Next question: is a myriad the same as a panoply? Quite often we hear the two used interchangeably. A panoply can mean a great many things, including military attire or a flashy cover. But it is also a splendid or magnificent array, as a panoply of colorful flags. I don’t know what’s on your desk, but the piles on mine are hardly splendid.

By the way, sources say panoply isn’t preceded by an article such as “a” or “the.”

If panoply is an array, then “panoply of” would be followed by a plural, no? I ask the question because the lyrics of “June Hymn,” a beautiful song by The Decemberists, mentions “a panoply of song” – which makes me wonder if song really means songs, in the same way people lately talk about sport, which used to be sports.

Finally – plethora, also commonly misused. A plethora is too many, an overabundance. Just be sure you know what it means — in case someone asks. For a little context, watch the first minute and a quarter of this clip, from one of my favorite bad movies:

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So tarred

Nothing wakes me up like a good mixed metaphor. But you already know that; they’re honored all over this place.

This morning, still sleepy, I filled my morning mug while listening to Today’s Professionals, the mildly lame Today show panel of  so-called “professionals,” consisting of a doctor, a lawyer and a PR exec who expound on issues of the day to the benefit of, well, no one really, in my humble opinion.

The topic of the day was Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), and his recent comments about “legitimate rape” not causing pregnancy.

After Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman rebuffed the congressman’s theory, the panel’s legal analyst, Star Jones, cautioned that the congressman’s gaffe could harm GOP candidate Mitt Romney, whose campaign could be “tarred with the same feather.”

Did you notice this?

We don’t see much tarrin’ and featherin’ going on these days; thankfully, the hot and sticky mode of torture went out with the horse and buggy.

However, we do see people and things and causes being tarred with the same brush as others, the image being that using a brush to spread tar on something could dirty another object if the same brush were used.

It is said that the expression “tarred with the same brush” refers to the tarring of sheep as a method of branding, in which owners of a flock of sheep marked their wool in the same place with a brush dipped in tar to distinguish them from other flocks. I’m sure there are other theories.

Nevertheless, I envisioned someone trying to spread tar—on anything—with a feather. If Ms. Jones’ words are true, then the Romney campaign is going to be just fine.

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Reign maker

Thank you, Mitt Romney, for raining on my wilting blog.

If you hadn’t noticed, the Word Nymph’s crop of lexicological sustenance has been as dry as the American plains. Until today.

The presumptive GOP nominee has given us occasion for instruction on a homonym we haven’t addressed in this place. In announcing his selection of a running mate, Romney’s press release said of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.):

“He is Chairman of the House Budget Committee, where he has worked tirelessly leading the effort to reign in federal spending and increase accountability to taxpayers.”

Did you spot it?

Reign in federal spending. Wrong. It’s rein. As in a strap controlling an animal.

Perhaps Mitt was going for the pun. Or maybe his error was hopeful of his intent to reign in the new year. That’s reign, as royalty on a throne.

We see the spellings of these often confused.

It’s rote to me, but here’s a little clue to help get it straight:

Rein – think of Rudolph the Red-nosed reindeer

Reign – pertains sovereign occupation of the throne. Sovereign has a g in it; so does reign.

Keep ‘em coming, Mitt. It’s been a long drought.

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Don’t panic

Language has a way of enticing even the smartest of speakers to succumb to sloppiness, prompting misuses to spin out of control. Inspired by one too many examples, I offer today’s friendly reminder.

A rule of thumb:

Hilarious – good.
Hysterical – bad.

Perhaps that’s oversimplifying things a bit, but it serves as a helpful reminder that each word has its own distinctive meaning.

With common misuse, the distinction has grown more subtle.

“Hysterical” and “hilarious” are not interchangeable. Yes, online dictionaries have added one as a synonym of the other in recent times, but I’m not buying it.

As a matter of instruction, “hysterical” means to be in emotional shock. Some of its most common synonyms include: irrational, panic-stricken, jumpy, nervous and anxious.

People often describe movies or books or television shows or comedians as hysterical; therein lies the danger.

I suppose it could be accurate to describe a movie as hysterical. That is, if hysteria is a predominant theme. Theoretically, Titanic could be called hysterical, but it certainly is not hilarious.

One might call a comedian hysterical. He might be funny, hilarious, in fact, but is he shrieking uncontrollably? Ben Stein, for example, can be hilarious, but he is never hysterical.

When something is extremely funny, it is hilarious. Full of hilarity. When a person is extremely funny, she is hilarious. If she is having a hissy fit, she is hysterical. Remember, hissy derives from hysteria.

I could say that I found something so hilarious that I became hysterical. But it is I who was hysterical, not the thing that I found hilarious.

There’s the lesson for today. Your homework: Keep an ear out for one week and report back on how often you hear hysterical misused. Extra credit: Correct the offenders and hope they take it in good spirit and don’t become hysterical.

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Resolved

As we near the end first week of January, I’m proud to report that I’ve kept all of my New Year’s resolutions. Or I would have if I had made any. Perhaps I’ve kept yours.

I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. Or perhaps I should say, I don’t make typical New Year’s resolutions.

Let it be noted that this week, I took a Zumba class, attended a Weight Watchers meeting, started a new book (reading, not writing), cleaned out and reorganized my refrigerator and tried to donate a pint of blood. Tried, because I apparently didn’t have enough iron for the Red Cross. I then went out and bought a gargantuan head of kale.

If I had resolved to exercise, lose weight, read more, get organized, do for humanity and buy healthful foods, I’d have aced it this week. One down, fifty-one to go.

Notice I said, “healthful,” not “healthy.” Things are healthful. People are healthy. Kale, anyone?

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