Recent missives found in the mailbox . . .
Benjamin Loeb of Bethesda bemoans the all-too-common mispronunciation of the word "nuclear." Perhaps half the time, it comes out as "NOO-cue-lur," Ben observes, and not just from the mouths of grade-school dropouts.
"The list includes radio and TV newsmen, high government officials (including some with energy responsibilities) and people in the nuclear business," he writes.
"It is hard to understand why it is so common," Ben's letter concludes. "After all no one mispronounces 'clear' by itself, and the people who say NOO-cue-lur will usually pronounce 'nucleus' correctly. . . With the slightest encouragement I will send you the names of people who sin henceforth."
I'd love it, Ben. However, let me suggest that a former high government official who often spoke about nuclear energy on national television be placed at the head of the list. A former nuclear engineer named Jimmy Carter.
Lowell W. Williams of Arlington would like to shower some public praise on Washington policeman Alvah D. Adams, and I'm delighted to oblige.
"Last week," Lowell writes, "while en route to the U.S. Navel Medical Center in Bethesda for a 9:30 a.m. appointment, I had a flat tire on a rather secluded section of Little Falls Road between Massachusetts Avenue Entended and River Road (in Bethesda).
"Being a senior citizen in the mid-seventies, I did not feel physically up to changing a tire on an open highway. . . I started walking toward River Road when a car drove by. . . [The driver] was an off-duty policeman [Adams], not in uniform, who had just completed his night shift in the Seventh District.
"This gentleman proceeded to change the tire for me. . . He refused any type of compensation for his labors.
"We do have some real fine men in our District police force . . ."
Betsy Freitag of Cheverly is still furious about the crowds on the Mall who came to har the Beach Boys and turned the grass into a muddy swamp.
"Maybe whoever is the headliner could make a statement, such as 'Are you cleaning up around you? We don't sing to pigs,'" Betsy suggests.
"Remember the schoolchildren cleaning up after the pope's visit? It can be done."
Of course, Betsy, it already has been done. Crews from the National Park Service were on the job the morning after the Beach Boys concert to collect trash and begin reseeding. By the time you read this, George Berklacy, the park service's spokesman, promises that the Mall will look picture-postcard perfect again.
Still, the job may end up costing more than $50,000. If a Beach Boy could prevent that with a few well-chosen words, I ask: what's stopping him?
Joel Tall of Northwest Washington agreed with a conclusion in a recent column of mine in which I noted that the word "penultimate" (next to the last) is seldom used correctly.
Joel asked me to add another word to the list: "decimate."
"It comes from the frisly habit of ancient warriors of killing one in 10 of their captives, just to influence captured tribers to remain quiescent," Joel points out. In modern usage, of course, "decimate" is used as though it means "nearly wipe out," a usage that is becoming more widely accepted as time goes by.
And finally, Stephen A. Seitz of Northeast Washington wrote to wish that, in the same column, I had stomped a little harder on the use of "impact" as a verb.
"Impact' is not a verb. It is never a verb," Steve writes."Only in the District of Columbia and the education industry is it used as a verb. You can impact wisdom teeth, but that's it.
"When words become distorted through constant misuse, it adds still more confusion in an increasingly complex world. Those of us engaged in the business of language (I'm a copy editor myself) owe it to the rest of the world to use our tools correctly and responsibly."
No argument whatsoever, Steve. I'm just afraid that we might want to pick our battles a little more carefully. When Channel 9 weatherman Paul Anthony declares -- as he did a couple of weeks ago -- that "there's a less chance of rain Monday," our problems have only begun to impact upon us.