We continue today, class, with another in the series: What The Forces of Evil Are Doing to Our Mother Tongue.
Since this is September, when footballs fly, it's only fitting that I begin the wailing with my favorite non-favorite in the mispronunciation sweepstakes: "defense."
That's DEE-fense, if you happen to be a football coach, or a color commentator, or, increasingly, anyone who listens to either of the first two. Of course, Noah Webster, who used to quarterback the London Lexicographers, pronounced the word de-FENSE. But in the modern era, if you've never been interviewed by Jimmy the Greek, your opinion on "football words" and 25 cents might get you a cup of coffee.
Here's my cure for the DEE-fense blues: Whenever the home team gets the ball this season, let's force an entire stadium full of football fans to chant OH-fense, OH-fense for at least a minute. If they don't give up halfway through in recognition of their own ridiculousness, I'll eat my Redskins pennant . . . .
Mark Woolsey of Arlington is an attorney, so he has the credentials to complain about the phrase "class action suit." Color the third word redundant, Mark says, noting that "class action suit" literally means "class action action."
Meanwhile, Frieda Kornitzer of Rockville has spotted a recent TV ad that makes the blood run cold. The on-camera sinner: baseball player Johnny Bench. He urges his listeners to "watch close."
More seasonal in her uncured beef is Margaret Masterson of Alexandria. Christmas is just around the corner, Margaret points out, and that means that "stocking stuffers" are, too. Of course, as Margaret notes, the actual "stuffers" are Mom and Dad at 3 a.m. The gift that's stuffed is properly referred to as "stuffing."
Elizabeth Holbrook of Arlington must not earn her living in public relations. Otherwise she'd know that you always look on the bright side, even when it can scare the daylights out of you. How else to explain Elizabeth's insistence that the aviation industry stop calling those mid-air episodes "near misses," and start calling them "near hits"?
But the worst wound of summer has arrived from far to the south. On July 24, in Pinellas Park, Fla., Randy Heine ("A Man for the '80s") announced his candidacy for Florida's 6th District congressional seat. John T. O'Leary sent along a copy of the press release in which Heine presented himself to the voters:
"The vasolating miss directions we receive from Washington have caused us to lower our standards," Heine declared. "Florida and the Country is now in desperate need of new innovative leadership, willing to listen, then tackel the problems. Heine does not disparity idealism . . . . "
Until Heine gets to Washington, Esther Hawkins of Cleveland Park is keeping a jaundiced eye on television here -- and not just on the six-figure faces on camera.
Esther reports seeing a piece of film a few weeks ago about a slab of marble that fell off the National Gallery. For the visual label, a WJLA video operative chose the words: "A peace of the rock."
Are we at The Post blameless? Surely you jest.
No defense, either zone or man-to-man, can bail out sportswriter Thomas Boswell, who quoted pitcher Warren Spahn as saying that a teammate received his "just desserts" (thanks to Bill Norman of Hyattsville).
And staffer Alison O'Neill could only gulp when I showed her a letter from Dan Freeman of Annapolis. "She's got a long road to hoe," Alison had written, in a feature story about sharks. "Row!" observed Freeman.
Lastly, some guy named Levey perpetrated a piece of punk punctuation that didn't elude Wendell Cochran of Falls Church.
Pay particular attention to the placement of the question mark in the offending sentence:
"'What could be that awful,' I asked him?"
Says Wendell: "Better never than late!"