March 17, 2004
Those incidents in Ohio involved someone shooting a gun, but only the one in which a bullet hit a person was a shooting.
Dictionary definitions vary in their rigor about this point, but think about it: If the neighbor kid is practicing with a .22 and a tin can, do you think a series of shootings is going on next door?
So, what do you call it when a guy fires a gun into a tree or a door frame -- or, unsuccessfully, at a person? I don't have a good answer. Shooting incident isn't great, but it's better than shooting. In the Columbus case, sniper incident also works.
LOOKING FORWARD to the Macy's Day Parade? Well, what the heck is Macy's Day? It's the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, of course, but that odd common error has been published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cox News Service, the Jupiter (Fla.) Courier, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Florida Today, the Palm Beach Post, the Tampa Tribune, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times, among others, and that's just this year.
SPEAKING OF ODD COMMON ERRORS, "Indira Ghandi" appears in the current issue of Washingtonian magazine. Indira, Mohandas and Rajiv, of course, shared the name Gandhi.
VICIOUS CIRCLE is the expression, not "vicious cycle."
IT'S THE NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN. For, not of. My newspaper recently committed that error.
MY NEWSPAPER also recently mentioned a "hot dog-eating contest." Now, how hot could a dog-eating contest be? What the Post meant was a hot-dog-eating contest.
"FREE" means "for nothing." So "for free" means "for for nothing."
SPEAKING OF "FREE," in an odd and uncommon error, I recently read about somebody being home-free. The expression, assuming you don't mean homeless, is "home free."
In this land of opportunity, we love opportunities to add extraneous words. What the tennis commentators mean by "break-point opportunity" is "break point." What the hockey announcers mean by "power-play opportunity" is "power play." The "opportunity" or "chance" or "shot" is redundant at best.
To be more accurate, the extra words are just plain wrong. A break point is an opportunity to break serve, so a break-point opportunity would technically be an opportunity to get an opportunity to break serve. That's not that farfetched a reading: If 15-40 is a break point (a double break point, to be more precise), isn't 15-30 a break-point opportunity? If a penalty in hockey means a power play, isn't a referee's whistle during a scuffle a power-play opportunity?
Just as countless American teens write "hi mandy" and "hi jason," as though Mandy and Jason were "hi," one of the British tabloids lent support to adopted Brit Greg Rusedski by printing a full-page sign for spectators reading "COME ON GREG." Comma. Please. Otherwise it's the title of a gay porn movie.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: No. There is no suspect; that's why police are giving out a description!
When a local television newscast or a poorly edited newspaper contains such a sentence, the person being described is almost always the robber or the killer or the rapist -- the perpetrator.
Exceptions: Suspect is appropriate if an unidentified person being sought was seen leaving the scene of a crime but not actually committing the crime. It's appropriate if there is actually a suspect, a named person, and he's being described because he's on the run and not being labeled a perpetrator because of libel laws (but such a description would probably include the suspect's name).
Usually, however, it's an example of journalists mindlessly parroting cop-speak. Suspect means "person suspected of committing a crime" in English, even if it means "criminal" to the police (if you're into that whole innocent-until-proven-guilty thing, it's best not to think too much about that).
I wonder: Do the dictationist-reporters also call their dogs "K-9 units"?
"At the end of the day."
Days do end, and sometimes it's necessary to refer to that, so I'm not advocating a search-and-destroy mission for those words. But the phrase appears to be taking over the world as a substitute for other cliches, such as "When all is said and done" and "When the dust settles." In a slightly more scientific study, I searched the LexisNexis database for appearances of "At the end of the day" in The Washington Post. The growth of the cliche was striking: The phrase appeared 39 times in 1980, 140 times in 1995 and 273 times (so far) in 2002.
The cliche is not a 2002 phenomenon, of course. The most significant leap appeared in 1998, with 213 appearances -- up from 142 in 1997. This year just happened to be when this irritant, at least for me, leapt from the background, like the one-minute-unnoticeable, the-next-minute-intolerable noise from the newsroom TV that nobody from the day side ever bothers to turn off.
What to use instead? Ultimately comes to mind as one possibility. You're the editor. Use your imagination.
The sniper has struck morning, noon and night, but his most recent targets have been near highways.
Police were looking on the "time" side of the time-space continuum, I suppose, so he eluded them by striking in "space" instead.
I don't mean to pick on editors who probably had very little time to go over this story; I'm just using a handy illustration of a common error:
"But" is not a toy. When you see it as an editor or are tempted to use it as a writer, ask yourself whether it's actually pointing out a seeming contradiction or whether it's just there for decoration. Does the highway thing contradict the "morning, noon and night" thing? Of course not. Usually, then, you could repair the damage by changing "but" to "and." In this case, however, the two parts of the sentence aren't even that closely related. Get me rewrite!
Let's review: Each other is what it is. It exists outside the realm of singulars and plurals, and so there is no plural -- there is no each others. So the possessive cannot be each others'. The possessive is each other's.
Children is already plural. Childrens makes no sense; just as you don't say kidses, you don't say childrens. So the possessive cannot be childrens'. The possessive is children's.
Sorry for the rude characterization, but I just can't stomach this stuff. I have no imagination.
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A few days after I read that newsletter, the aforementioned co-worker missed a smoothe in a story he edited.
A few days after that, a Washington Post story (not in my section) contained the phrase "sooth your soul."
Never seen that one before.