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Caviar Emptor! The Careless Customer Can End up with Faux Roe in His Face.

New millennium [*] decade....same old same old admonition from this low-rent cubicle: Do Not Spell By Ear (said scientifically, Eschew Otoorthography). The same old argument against the practice continues: When the perpetrator errs, the cloak of stupidity descends. Here is a recent instance of SBE lifted from the Boston Globe:

"[The museum displays] the shackles worn by Anthony Burns, an escaped slave whose arrest made him a cause celeb in 1850...."

Close, but the cheroot is nowhere in sight.

The writer could have made it through the minefield using only celeb -- the now standard clip for celebrity, or "a famous or well publicized person" (Webster's New World College Dict. 4th ed. 1999) -- but he chose to pair it with cause. This created the teratoma cause celeb, which apparently was close enough to needed cause celebre to satisfy Mr. Easy. A cause celebre (p1. Causes celebres), according to Merriam-Webster's 10th Collegiate, 1999, is "1 : a legal case that excites widespread interest 2 : a notorious person, thing, incident, or episode."

[(*.) N.B. -- please excuse that solecistic new millennium in the lede ... my bad. That event, sure to loom anew wreathed in recrudescent angst and dire prophecy, is due on site in 2001.]

The same newspaper reported on January 2, 2000, that "The world did not end yesterday." Writer Charles M. Sennott subsequently referred to "chilling vignettes about the 'End of Days,' as the Book of Revelations calls the violent upheaval prophesied to precede the return of the Messiah." All local resources favor no-s Revelation as the headline for the final book of the New Testament; it's also called Apocalypse.

* Last century, Newsweek ran a foodie sidebar on the faux-caviar business (Nov. 29). Erika Check's bright, informative 300 words were a real treat -- a plate scraper -- all the way to the last word... literally. Will you catch the miscue?

"So if regulators can't save the fish, epicureans may find themselves spreading paddlefish roe on their blinis." Ms. Check forgot to.

But CW's routine check of new-to-us noun blinis disclosed these useful data, by way of the 3rd edition, American Heritage Dictionary, 1998: 1) blinis -- no entry; 2) blini -- "n. Plural of blin." 3) blin -- "n. a small, light pancake served with hot melted butter, sour cream, and various other garnishes such as caviar or lox." Look things up. Try to do the right thing. This will amaze and gratify your readers.

These words of advice would have helped an area freelancer do a more professional job on her published piece called "The Art of Building Walls." Her lede:

"I cradled the rocks in my arms as I logged them from their comfortable resting spots...." Logged? Typo or tin ear, I don't know which, but the editor should have rescued the writer from this dreadful failure to see the need for lugged. Farther down in the story she wrote about "the vice grip my heart felt." Here is another situation in which your spell checker will prove it is helpless in the land of the homophone. The writer wants vise because her meaning goes to the squeezing force exerted by the bench tool so named. That other vice usually labels moral depravity or corruption.

Further evidence of homophonia came here late last year thanks to Wilma Mathews s laser-eyed study of the fall 1999 issue of Wild Times, a publication of the Phoenix, Arizona, zoo:

"Our adult volunteers also contribute a lot to the Zoo! Weather your 18 or 89...." Mathews, director of p.r. at Arizona State, sent CW the twofer tearsheet: Make that Weather "Whether"; the your you re. (And for those who have not yet happened across it, a capped letter in mid-word, e.g., Wild Times, can be called either an intercap or a camel cap.)

* PR Week dated November 22 printed a piece by Claire Atkinson that led with this: "LOS ANGELES -- Hollywood talent shop United Talent Agency, which boasts a slate of clients ranging from Jim Carrey to Johnny Depp, has hired...." A slate is not the same as a list or roster; Random House Webster's College Dictionary, 1999, limits the meaning to "a list of candidates, officers, etc., to be considered for nomination, appointment, or election."

The December 20 edition, same pub, told about the enduring p.r./advertising struggles, noting "Evidence that the tables are turning (in favor of p.r.)...." Idiom turn the tables (on somebody) calls for action by someone: Sarah turned the tables on Lee, meaning Sarah reversed an unfavorable situation; she gained the advantage over her opponent. The tables do not turn themselves.

* An AP story that appeared hereabouts last October broke the news about the new Jensen automobile's rebirth in Britain. The photo caption: "The newest Jensen will have an aluminum body powered by a Ford Cobra V-8 engine." Avoid the appearance of confusion by putting the participial phrase up front: "Powered by a Ford Cobra V-8 engine, the newest Jensen will have an aluminum body."

Alden Wood, APR, 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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Author:Wood, Aden
Publication:Communication World
Date:Feb 1, 2000
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