The grammarian in me has been silent for too long. Scores of outrages have been visited upon our mother tongue, and upon good usage, in recent weeks. My readers and I say it's time to fight back.
The sins are these:
USING "WOMAN" WHEN "FEMALE" IS CORRECT. How many times last month did you see or hear Sally Ride called America's first "woman astronaut"? Sorry, Sally, but 'tweren't so. "Woman" is a noun; "female" an adjective. So there's no case whatsoever for calling you a "woman astronaut."
Put it another way: it would sound obviously wrong if we called Frederick Hauck a "man astronaut."
Incidentally, Joanna Boyce of Burke points out that such sex designations are often used irrelevantly. Every mention of Sandra Day O'Connor seems to include the fact that she is the first female Supreme Court justice, Joanna notes, even where O'Connor's sex has nothing to do with what she wrote or said. "The sex of a person should only be included if it has a direct relation to the story," Joanna argues. Quite so, say I.
FUMBLING THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN TWO WORDS THAT SOUND VERY MUCH ALIKE. The headline said, "Nation Ravished by War Struggles as Client State." As John Sequeira of Arlington points out, "the word should have been 'ravaged.' If anything has been ravished, it's the hapless English language once again."
CHOOSING A WORD THAT MAY SOUND CLASSIER, BUT IS JUST PLAIN WRONG. The recurring symptom of this disease is using "infer" when you mean "imply." They aren't identical. To infer is to draw an inference from what someone else says or does. To imply is to produce an inference for someone else to infer. Thanks, B.C.L. of Capitol Hill.
CHOOSING "ABLY" WHEN IT OUGHT TO BE "EDLY." The two recurring nightmares under this heading are "supposably" and "reportably," as noted by Sally Mohle of Manassas and Patricia R. Bailer of Silver Spring, respectively. The next time you hear either "supposedly" or "reportedly" on radio or television, send the well-spoken soul who uttered it correctly a mash note. Chances are you won't have to send another to anyone else in Electronic Medialand for quite a while.
ASSIGNING HUMAN QUALITIES WHERE IT ISN'T APPROPRIATE. The "humanized" phrase that got under the skin of Jill Knox-Dick of Alexandria was "sophisticated weapons." As she points out, sophistication is a quality of the human mind or personality. It doesn't mean the same as "complication." Until you meet a bomb that shops at Lord and Taylor and subscribes to The New Yorker, the phrase just doesn't fit.
INVENTING A FORM OF AN OLD WORD WHEN THE OLD WORD WOULD HAVE BEEN JUST FINE. That's what American Airlines did to Sherilyn Krell of McLean. When she called up to book a flight, she was told she could "pre-reserve" a seat as much as 11 months ahead of flight time. Doesn't plain old "reserve" still mean what it always meant? "I'm baffled," reports Sherilyn. That makes two of us, my friend.
USING A "JUDGMENT" WORD AND EXPOSING ONE'S OWN BIASES IN THE PROCESS. "Elderly" is the word in question, and Faye Ford of Northwest is dismayed that so many writers below the age of 40 apply it to everyone 60 and above. Faye argues that "elderly" fits only those people at or above the mandatory retirement age of 70. Convincing to the guy in this corner.
Finally, two poetic plaints. The first is from the pen of Bob Downer of Falls Church. He writes:There are folk's who drive me crazy I could banish them with ease Their punctuation is so hazy Making plural's with apostrophe's!
The second was submitted by Linda Rowland Christenson of Arlington. She writes:This question of where-hyphenation Is causing us great consternation, But give us the datum On how to split "atom" And we'll have a real a-bomb-in-nation.