R. W. Smith of Bethesda writes: "Your bit on strangled syntax reminded me of Raymond Chandler's. 'A guy's there and you see him, and then he ain't there and you don't not see him.'
"This is not unlike the line used in the Kansas City Star during the days Ernest Hemingway was a cub reporter: 'He hit the girl he was engaged to's brother."
In the first edition of Monday's Washington Post, these lines appeared: "This is one of an occasional series of articles on how people are preparing for winter in an energy-conscious era." In the next edition, an hour later, the wording was, "This is one in a series of occasional articles . . ." Why is it always easier to see an error after it has been set into type?
An Associated Press dispatch that was published without change in our newspaper caught the eye of H. Barton of Annapolis. The story began:
"A 15-year-old girl won the right to play hockey with boys in Quebec Superior Court Wednesday."
Barton's comment was: "No wonder the Canadians excel at hockey. What other country premits its kids to play the game in a courtroom?"
Col. R. M. Rufsvold of Springfield, Va., was dismayed to find in a recent Rex Morgan comic strip the sentence. "Older women can be terribly jealous of we younger people." Jealous of we? Arrrrgh!
Jerome Howell of Chevy Chase has noted the almost interchangeable use of further and farther in modern writing and would like to know what the experts say these days.
Roy H. Copperud's useful book, "American Usage: The Consensus," rounds up expert opinion in these words:
"The purist holds that farther applies to physical distance and further to anything else, e.g., a farther journey, a further consideration. This is the position of the American Heritage panel. Bernstein predicts that the distinction will be lost 50 years hence; Bryant, Copperud, Evans and Fowler agree that it is already gone.
"To put it more explicitly, farther and farthest are used to refer only to distance, but further is used indiscriminately in both the physical and figurative sense. Farther is never used in the abstract or figurative sense; no one says a farther consideration, farther effort ."
If you will forgive me for adding my opinion to these learned comments, I will say this: Just because some people have corrupted various words and usages, there is no need for careful writers and speakers to be guilty of the same transgressions. Slovenly usage poses the danger that language will become a collection of vague grunts, y'knows and other whatchamacallits: but it is also a challenge to stand firm that will be heeded by people who care about language. They will be motivated to try all the harder to express themselves with precision.
Having delivered myself of that mouthful, I must take note that three readers have complained about some recent words of mine.
One, whose phone message I have regrettably misplaced, said it was stupid of me to write that something was "wholly impossible." His position is that there are no degrees of impossibility. Either something is impossible or it is not.
I will make no response except to wonder whether "utterly impossible," which means the same thing, would have triggered a similar protest.
Neil Aaron and Tom Gutnick, both of Arlington, took me to task for saying I am a "tobaccoholic."
"I am shocked at today's column." wrote Aaron. "Your use of the word 'tobaccoholic' is one of the worst 'awfulisms' I have ever seen you use deliberately.
"The word alcoholic is not derived by putting the suffix holic on the word alco . It is derived by putting the word alcohol in front of the suffix ic . Properly, then, tobaccoholic should be tobaccoic . And in answer to your unasked (but possibly thought) question, yes, I also object to the term workaholic . It should be workic ."
Gutnick echoed those views, also suggesting that tobaccoholic should properly be tobaccoic and workaholic should be workic .
If the basic purpose of language is indeed communication, I would say that the fellow who coined the word "workaholic" was a clever communicator. He didn't need a paragraph to make his point: he made it with one word. "Workic" may follow every rule in the book but it is a word that does not convey its meaning well and is therefore doomed to a short life.
I shall not mourn its passing.