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All right is all right, but alright ain't.

The personnel division of a major Boston bank uses its own newsletter to demonstrate why personnel/human resources types should not be permitted to communicate directly with the public.

Offering a course called "Fine-Tuning Your Communication Skills," the newsletter says "Participants will assess and refine a broad range of communication skills. This course focuses on improving interactions with coworkers, dealing with criticism, and getting your point across clearly. For more information call either Barbara Clarke at extension 5-7260."

Good old schizophrenic Clarke. Even if she's out she may be there. Oh, NO! You don't suppose there are two BC's?

* Francis Albert Sinatra, who turns 77 on 12/12, appeared at a concert in Worcester, Mass., last October. A local critic included this sentence in his story: "The once-magnificent Sinatra instrument of his younger years has been replaced by a voice that serves as a vehicle for word images he continues to paint so sharply in his seventh decade of living."

I don't know about you, but I had to read that twice to detect what it was that set off my WordWarning buzzer. The erstwhile crooner is 77. There are ten years in a decade. Seven times ten is 70. Make it eighth decade of living.

* Mike Jenkins, APR, who is national PR director for Domino's Pizza, Inc., Ann Arbor, Mich., wrote to register his disapproval of a sentence he read in a letter to the editor of a food magazine: "I've put up with a lot of teasing from my coworkers .... but it's a nice sort of jiving." The misuse of jive for gibe is "one of my pet peeves in the 'spell as you hear it' department," says Jenkins. To gibe is "To make taunting, heckling, or jeering remarks." (American Heritage III) It is sometimes spelt jibe, although this may cause confusion with |jibe.sup.2~, which means "To be in accord with; agree: Your figures jibe with mine."

Jive, the slang noun, adjective, verb, has myriad meanings -- to talk or chat, to cajole or mislead, to play or dance. Like most slang, it's best avoided in professional composition because of its chameleonic qualities.

* A writer at the Indianapolis News quoted a phrase that piqued the writer's eye of my friend Bill Brooks. First published in Architectural Digest, the expression was used to describe a pricey waterfall used to replenish the water in a swimming pool. The effect was "a sort of trompe-l'eau sluice .... "

As Brooks opines, "A good variation on trompe l'oeil." Yes, and like all good coinages, it's close enough to the parent phrase to come across quickly to the reader.

* Add to your collection of litter-ature: From a Reuters story: "We could have continued to reap great destruction on them." Wreak.

From the cut-line under an AP photo: "Two women on horseback survey the damage wrought by Hurricane Iniki ...." As American Heritage III points out in its Usage Note at wreak, "The past tense and past participle of wreak is wreaked, not wrought, which is an alternative past tense and past participle of work."

A Wall Street Journal page-one story datelined Sarajevo said that "(A man was) gesturing vaguely at a bullet-ridden house." Here the call is for riddled. Ridden means dominated or harassed or obsessed by something. It is often seen in combinations such as disease-ridden and grief-ridden. But hagridden appears as a closed compound.

The hyphenated terms above remind me of an instance of hyphenomena published as part of a Reuters cutline: "Two strong earthquakes, one measuring 5.5 on the Richter Scale, rocked the hot spring-studded Izu Peninsula ... south of Tokyo."

What a difference a tiny hyph can make! As printed, the cutline describes an area that is hot and displays many springs. What the writer surely intended was "the hot-spring-studded Izu Peninsula." Phrases used as attributive adjectives usually require hyphs to clarify their relations to the noun they modify, e.g., "a do-it-yourself project."

And it was a Boston Globe story that showed me that the struggle over Hobson's choice continues to reap/wreak/wrought havoc. An article quoted a salesperson who commented on federal funding's possible effects in the controversy about abortion counseling:

"To head off such Hobson's choices, Planned Parenthood is ...." John Bremner tells us the Hobson story with wit and brevity in his Words on Words: "A choice between what is offered and nothing. Thomas Hobson, a seventeenth-century liveryman in Cambridge, England, told every customer he could have any horse he wanted, as long as it was the one nearest the door. Hobson's choice should not be used in the context of dilemma or mere indecision."

* The Massachusetts Drug Awareness Program has published a bumper sticker that proclaims "It's Alright to Say No." I contemplate a rebuttal: "It's Alwrong to Say Alright." A common solecism, alright has yet to achieve the respectability accorded already and altogether. All right is all right.

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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Title Annotation:Wood on Words
Author:Wood, Alden S.
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 1, 1992
Previous Article:Boardroom beckons global communicators.
Next Article:"Hey, Jack! Punch 'save' and try these on." (imaginatively produced mail order catalogs) (Look of the Book) (Column)

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