District Liners continue to take a lively interest in the English language, and they pepper me with letters about usage that irks them. Let me give you a few free samples.
Oeveste Granducci writes from the Virgin Islands to urge us to disregard authorities who make no distinction between further and farther. Further he reminds us, should be used to indicate degree, farther to indicate distance.
Oeveste adds, "Let's also go after 'the person that,''that kind of a' and 'they invited John and I'. And if Neil Aaron and Tom Gutnick complain, tell them I'm a wordaholic."
Robert B. Dunwiddie of Columbia asks, "What is the right preposition to use with concur?"
I must preface my response with a reminder that I am not an authority on grammar or usage. I am merely a person who thinks language is worthy of close study because it is one of the most useful tools ever invented.
I use both with and in with concur as in "I concur (agree) with you" or "I concur in your action." If I am wrong, District Liners who know better will be quick to further (not farther) my education.
Bob England sent me a clipping of a Washington Post headline that said, "Antibiotic Is Used As Preventive For Death Belly." All I can say about that extra Syllable in what shoudhave been Preventive is that, on deadline, all mortals goof occasionally. Even copy editors.
An anonymous reader circled part of a sentence in a clipping - the part that named a city and followed it with a comma and the words, "a small town in the south central part of the state that no longer exists."
Les Finnegan of Press Associates Inc. acknowledges that all of us who work in print are occasionally guilty of carelessness, but he says writers are "almost purists compared with the electronic media's reporters and commentators. Take, for example, rout and route . If there is a single announcer in Washington who knows the distinction, I have somehow missed him. rout means to drive or force out, eject. It also means to dig up with the snout." And rout rhymes with snout.
A rout , on the other hand, is a road, course or way of travel, and its preferred pronunciation is "root ."
Frank H. Forrester reports, "The other evening, a network TV news reporter said of a situation, 'It is a little unique'. The word means 'without like or equal.' Therefore, there can be no degrees of uniqueness."
True. But advertising copy writers and others have so thoroughly pervertred unique that I am afraid its primary meaning will soon be "unusual."
The day after the Redskins became the Deadskins, we carried a front page story about them. The headline described their attitude as one of "indifference." But in the next edition, the word was changed to "disinterest." A spirited debate followed among several members of our staff.
One side argued that Redskin fans can hardly be called disinterested . A disinterested person is one who is impartial or unbaised. One who is uninterested is indifferent, and indifference had indeed overtaken some of the Redskins' disappointed followers. Their loud cheers when Billy Kilmer gave them a ray of hope in the final minutes offered proof that they were still quite partial of their heroes, and not at all disinterested - perhaps not really indifferent, either.
The other side said there is no longer a difference between disinterested and uninterested , that "I'll bet you a million billion dollars the big dictionary will bear me out on that." It was a safe bet. The Merriam-Webster III will bear anybody out on anything.
Dr. Philip B. Gove, editor in chief of Webster III, admitted years ago that his new dictionary's aim was "to report the language" as it is, not to prescribe what it should be. In other words, Webster III makes no attempt to be an authority on correct usage. It merely reports what current usage is.
Several esage experts (Bernstein, Copperud, Evans, Follett, Fowler and the American heritage panel) criticize the use of disinterested for uninterested . " useful distinction is being blurred," says Roy Copperud. But Rudolf Flesche says the battle has already been lost, and Copperud mourns, " The battle does seem lost."
I dare say the republic will not crumble even if the battle has been lost. Those who prize clarity will learn to use impartial instead of disinterested , and life will go on pretty much as before. But one question will remain unanswered: Why do we kill off so many useful, precise words?