Category Archives: usage

Needed: “Require” Inquiry

On editing discussion boards, the personal peeves of various editors inevitably bubble to the surface. A recurring peeve is the use of require for need. This is one particular bugaboo that I’ve never sweated (note to pedants: sweat would be fine here, too. That’s right: both sweat and sweated are acceptable as past tense and past participle of sweat), but it sure raises the ire of some. This week, the issue was raised again on LinkedIn, so I had to haul out the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. (Who am I kidding — the COD is always at hand.)

Here are the definitions:

  • need: require
  • require: need

That’s right, folks. I declare this debate officially over.

Okay, maybe there’s a bit more to discuss. Sure, require is the better choice in some instances:

To clear security, a passport is required (in other words, nothing but a passport will do the trick).

And need is the better choice in others:

This thesis needs a good editor (not a requirement, but a damn good suggestion).

But if the Canadian Oxford isn’t dying on this hill, neither am I.

Now, can we all get back to more important things — like duking it out over the Oxford comma!


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Filed under comma use, Oxford comma, usage

My Preventive Medicine is Better than Your Preventative Medicine

I came across a post by Grammar Girl today, which discussed the use of two pairs of words:

preventive vs. preventative

orient vs. orientate

Grammar Girl says they’re both correct, but for Americans the shorter words preventive and orient are more common. I’d concur for Canadians — COD equates the words. CP style, however, stipulates that preventative not be used — probably a space-saving measure.

By the way, there’s still time — eight more days — to contribute to Grammar Girl’s Peeve Wars fundraiser. And a heads up: March 4 is Grammar Day. How do you plan to celebrate?

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Filed under grammar police, usage

Words: Discovery and Depth

I love writers who introduce me to new words (I’m looking at you, Rex Murphy and Conrad Black).  I recently discovered the word irenic (“no irenic third way”) in a well written and well researched article by Reverend Joe Boots in Jubilee, a local magazine. (Sorry about the magazine cover — it’s absolutely execrable.) Irenic means “aiming or aimed at peace.”

I once came across crapulous and thought it was the new craptastic, but I was wrong. It means “drunk.”

Recently The Millions published an article on the personal discovery of new words — and on the depth of meaning in ordinary words used by author Ali Smith, in particular.

The author of the article begins the piece by listing several words he learned from reading great authors: assiduous (Salman Rushdie), pulchritude (Zadie Smith), fantod (David Foster Wallace), mendacity (Tennessee Williams), phalanx, faradic, tesellate, and hysteresis (all from Thomas Pynchon). He goes on to discuss how Ali Smith can mine a banal word to uncover a multitude of connections that pertain to an individual character as well as to the wider world of ideas.

The excerpts of Smith’s works left me wanting more. She’s been on my reading list for awhile, and it’s time she made it to the top. Although I’m no fan of wordsmithing for the sake of wordsmithing (yeah, I turned that into a gerund), I’m a big fan of language and its capacity to intrigue, explain, connect, and transform. Which means I’ll probably be a big fan of Smith, too.

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Filed under editing and writing, life and literature, usage, writing

On Becoming Nonplussed by “Nonplussed”

Language is constantly changing, and good editors stay abreast of changes in usage and spelling. But last night, a writer sent me reaching for the dictionary because I was sure he had misused nonplussed, and I was absolutely nonplussed by his incorrect usage.

I’m currently reading The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis, who will speak at this year’s EAC conference in June. I’ve loved politics since I was young, and this book is a fun romp through the wily political process. (CBC television made a series based on the book.) Last night in bed, I read this sentence:

To his credit (and my good fortune), he seemed nonplussed by my moronic response.

Obviously, Fallis is conveying that the character was not puzzled by the moronic response. That’s not right, I said, as I reached for my COD (not to be confused with OCD), which is always at hand. Nonplussed means you are puzzled — I was sure of it.

Except I was wrong.

According to the dictionary, nonplussed means “perplexed.” Okay, right. But the second definition given, common in North America, is “unfazed.” Looks like this is a case of incorrect usage being so common that it becomes correct.

I was absolutely nonplussed by this information, but then I shrugged my shoulders and was nonplussed. As I said, language is constantly changing — whether or not I get the memo.

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Filed under books and awards, editing and writing, usage

It’s an EVENT

I bet you’ve noticed my new pet peeve a lot lately: the overuse of event by marketers. We used to talk about event venues or about sports events. There was some importance attached to an event, or at least some kind of formal program.

Not anymore.

Yes, it’s been a brutal winter, but do I have to keep hearing weather forecasters speak of “snowfall events”? We’re Canadian, yes, but it’s just snow. Does yet another Hollywood movie with no plot but lots of wreckage really constitute an “event” in my life? Hardly.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines event as “a thing that happens or takes place, especially one of importance.” Okay, that’s not so strict. Technically, an event could be just about anything. But let’s not reduce a word to meaninglessness by attaching it to every marketing campaign going.

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Filed under authenticity, editing and writing, usage

Time to Edit Edit

WordPress won’t allow me to manipulate the words in a title. What I want the above title to express is “Time to Edit Edit,” where the second edit refers to the word itself.

Confused? Allow me to explain.

As an editor, I choose  short Anglo-Saxon words over longer Romance language words (spread not proliferate), I omit jargon and needless words (the fact of the matter is), and I favour concrete words over abstract words (“hit” not “laid hands on”).

But I just discovered a new term for editing that is nothing short of genius: quality control. I don’t care how you spell it: Quality Control, quality control, QR, or qr. Heck, shout it out: QUALITY CONTROL. Before you question my sanity, see this post.

(It may work wonders on an invoice, but I still wouldn’t allow it in a document!)

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Filed under branding, editing and writing, freelancing, usage

Are You Entitled To Entitle?

There are lots of troublesome words that writers often get mixed up: further/farther, pour/pore, comprise/compose, and so on. I’ve discussed this in a previous post. Copy editors are well aware of these words and do their best to catch such errors of usage.

Today in a tweet, a writer described a list “titled” something-or-other (titled used as an adjective). I thought, shouldn’t that be entitled? Are they synonyms? I wasn’t sure and had to go looking.

According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, title means “give a title to.” Titled is the past tense, of course, but it is also an adjective that means “having a title of nobility or rank.” Entitle means “give a just claim or right” or “give the title of.” So a writer can title her work, and she can also entitle her work? In a word, yes.

I title thee Best Grammarian of Them All!

She titled her essay “The Best Headache Cures in Nature.”

He is a titled tennis player.

Diana Gabaldon’s new book, which will be released on June 10, 2014, is titled Written in My Own Heart’s Blood.

My grandmother will entitle her bucket list “To Do and Die.”

The list is entitled “To Do and Die.”

See these here guns? They entitle us to a little respect around here.

(That last sentence? Sounds like an awesome TV script, huh?)

Some sticklers out there feel that entitle should be restricted to the first definition given above: “give a just claim or right.” That certainly wasn’t  my instinct. Thankfully, this is one of those cases where change in common usage over the years has entitled writers to use either title or entitle before the title of a work. I’ll give none other than Grammar Girl the last, succinct word on the subject.

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