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'When you say something, make sure ....' (grammatical errors) (Wood on Words) (Column)

Last August, in this space, I suggested that the new expression comfort food might be a euphemism for mystery meat.

"Not so!" cried Karen Ann Kurlander from her aerie in Bedminster, N.J., where she manages corporate communications for Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems.

"Comfort food is the kind of memory-suffused fare that your mom might have made, food that may not be good for you from a health point of view, but which makes you feel good, secure, cozy when you eat it. You eat comfort food in your bathrobe with your cat when the whole world seems to be against you, and suddenly it all seems a little more bearable."

Mmmm ... I'll have one humongous slab of fudge cake, heavy on the french vanilla, hold the cat hairs. Hi Mom! Thanks, Karen Ann.

* Food Item #2: For one reason or another, two of our children have been making frequent stopovers at our house, usually just before supper and usually laden with toxic laundry. Upon hearing about this, daughter Rita Wood observed, "Forget bed and breakfast; you guys are running a nosh and wash."

* A newspaper story datelined Los Angeles tells about a resident who's been trying to sell his house by lopping $1,000 off the asking-price each day: "That's 69 cents a minute, according to his sign, an 80-foot-square monstrosity covered with gaudy stars."

Some sign. I think perhaps the writer intended "80-square-foot," suggesting a sign that is 10 feet long and eight feet tall. A sign that's "80-foot-square" measures 80 feet on each side, or 6,400 sq. ft. I need to see this dude's stepladder.

* A writer from Westchester, N.Y., whose letter is unsigned, castigates the writer of an IABC form letter that encourages Gold Quill Award winners to seek accreditation. The innominate New Yorker says, "I call your attention to paragraph two. It's just one reason why some of us have rejected accreditation and with it recognition as a 'communication professional.'"

Graf two says, "As an Award winner, we are extending a special opportunity for you to use your Gold Quill success as a step toward becoming accredited by IABC."

The phantom's use of "just one reason" and "some of us" is mealy-mouthed innuendo, but the rap on grammar is valid. As an Award winner cannot logically modify we; it seeks a you that isn't there. The phrasing should go something like this: "As an Award winner you have a special opportunity to use your Gold Quill ...." Unfortunately, the dangling mod repeats itself -- literally -- two grafs below: "As a 1992 Award winner, we will allow you ...."

For the similarly innominate IABC scribe -- fair is fair -- I suggest this morsel of memory-suffused fare from E.B. White: "When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of having said it are only fair." This is a recording.

* Cynthia D'Errico, writer/editor at Text Communications/Publications Management, Ottawa, Ont., writes "I have a question for you. I have always maintained that 'broadcast' is an irregular verb because of its root, 'cast', e.g., 'I had cast my net into the ocean'; 'Dan Rather broadcast the news last night'. |Note the Canadian punctuation('.) vs (.')~. Yet in the article on diversity in communications in (August CommWorld) its past tense appears as 'broadcasted'. Have you any information to share with me on this one?"

Ted Bernstein, author of The Careful Writer, sides with D'Errico, observing that "If you think you have correctly forecasted the immediate future of English and have casted your lot with the permissivists, you may be receptive to broadcasted, at least in radio usage, as are some dictionaries. The rest of us, however, will decide that no matter how desirable it may be to convert all irregular verbs into regular ones, this cannot be done by ukase, nor can it be accomplished overnight. We shall continue to use broadcast as the past tense and the participle, feeling that there is no reason for broadcasted other than one of analogy or consistency or logic, which the permissivists themselves so often scorn. Nor is this position inconsistent with our position on flied, the baseball term, which has a real reason for being. The fact -- the inescapable fact -- is that there are some irregular verbs."

John Bremner (Words on Words) shares the Bernstein/D'Errico podium: "The past tense and the pp of the verb are broadcast, as in forecast, not broadcasted. Broadcast is both noun and verb and has bred such offspring as telecast (noun), sportscast (noun), simulcast (noun and verb) and the various -er and -ing forms."

Correspondent D'Errico closed her letter with this engaging thought, her paraphrase of a Samuel Johnson maxim: "A dictionary is like a watch. One is better than none; but even the best cannot be expected to go quite true."

* Michael Bodnar, communication director at Immediate Creative Services, Ltd., in Wellington, New Zealand, writes to tell me about a sign he swears he saw "on a central city street this year, in a shop window: Fire Sale -- Soon."

I eagerly await Bodnar's confirmation that there is truth in advertising, at least down under.

Alden Wood, lecturer on editorial procedures at Simmons College, Boston, Mass., writes and lectures on language usage. He is a retired insurance industry vice president of advertising and public relations.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Wood, Alden S.
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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