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Defuse diffusion.

Books and papers away, it's quiz time ! Boston magazine's cover story last November flaunted "New ways to stay fit longer by eating better and exercising less." Worth a look, I mused. The lead sentence proffered nostalgia, a load of L-literation, and one remarkable mistake that I know you will nail on first reading:

Jay Johnson, 45, remembers when he had a runner's body - long, lean, with legs that pumped like the cylinders of a well-oiled jaguar."

It's all right to get pumped up when you're building a good lead, but not to the point where you forget to cheek up. In a reciprocating engine, the cylinders are the chambers in which the pistons move back and forth; pistons pump, cylinders sit. Remember the legacy of David Crockett: "Be always sure you're right, then go ahead."

I If Boston's writer erred, she should not feel all alone in the naughty comer; she is joined by Cosmopolitan's respected editor in chief, Helen Gurley Brown. In a delightful essay titled At Work, Sexual Electricity Sparks Creativity" (The Wall Street Jounial, Halloween, '91, p. A22), Ms. Brown writes, "[M]ost unwanted sexual advances can and are turned away without dire results."

As Words Into Type notes, "The omission of a word may result in some other word's being used in two capacities, one of which is ungrammatical. Faulty: Thus he did what many a man has and is doing.' Better: ... has done and is doing.

HGB's sentence should end with can be and are turned away

For those who care, HAR-ass is favored over ha-RASS in the Oxford English Dictionary. Some people ascribe a less bellicose tone to the former.

Salomon Inc. recently spent a hammockful of money on a Wall Street Journal centerfold that interim chairman Warren E. Buffett might do some bragging, some apologizing, and some explaining. It is hard to understand why Salomon Inc.'s advertising agency was unable to rescue its client from the eighth-grade error in grammar that sat for all to deplore in the last paragraph, right above The Great One's signature: "The best decision I have made since assuming my post was my appointment of Deryck Maughan as Chief Operating Officer.... He, along with the management of Philbro, join me in a pledge to make Salomon (a better outfit)."

Once again Words Into Type has the answer: "The number of the subject and verb is not affected by intervening words introduced by with, together with, including, as well as, no less than, plus, and similar expressions." Here is the example WIT shows that matches Buffett's fluff- "The load of ore, together with ... the pig iron, was delivered on time." Similarly, "He ... joins me in a pledge

Valerie Ward, production coordinator in Westcoast Energy's public and government affairs division, Vancouver, B.C., sends along a clip from The Province, a newspaper, that gives us 1992's first spell-by-ear felony: (A politician) announced ... 'I'm gonna fly the rest of the way.' She dawned a headset (and sat beside the pilot)." Sounds like something out of Dawn Quixote or perhaps Don Patrol. Be ever watchful. The verb is don. Thanks, Valerie.

A Topeka utility company's newsletter publishes this proclamation from one of its sales managers: "We will incent for sales referral accounts that have $500 or more remaining." Even my brand-new 1991 Random House Webster's doesn't show incent. Neither do American Heritage, Webster's New World, or Webster's 9th. It's not in 12,000 Words or The Second Barnhart Dictionary of New English or The Morrow Book of New Words.

Random House Unabridged and Webster's III Unabridged likewise ignore it.

Well, I am not against any useful neologism, but why circumcise a noun like incentive when (you should forgive the expression) the end-product is presented as a verb no one can understand? What I hear is a pretentious backformation that draws attention to its inventor without benefit to the reader/listener. I therefore declare that incent isn't, doesn't, and never will. (I mean all the dude had to say was "We'll award incentives to accounts.")

There's Always Good News: Hopefully miscast is so common that it's a treat to spot it right side up, as in this citation: "Orlando magazine writes hopefully of luring the 'arts and culture' set to central Florida." Hopefully, meaning "in a hopeful manner or way.

This solecism is gaining ground, witness this example: "The judge agreed that the real tragedy of the case was that that none of the officers at the police station tried to diffuse the emotional situation." Beware diffuse. It means "adj. spread out or dispersed; not concentrated 2 using more words than are needed; longwinded." (Webster's New World.) As a verb it means to pour, spread out, or disperse in every direction. Obviously diffuse is not what's needed; the writer wants defuse, which means literally to remove a fuse from a bomb and figuratively "To make less dangerous, tense, or hostile: defuse an international crisis." (American Heritage Dictionary.)

A Boston Globe columnist wrote that Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. is "a predominately African-American organization." John Bremner makes things right:

"The adjective is predominant. Predominate is a verb, not an adjective. Thus: He predominated throughout the match. His serve was the predominant feature of his game. 'The adverb is predominantly, not predominately."

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:Woods on Words; correct use of words
Author:Wood, Alden S.
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Words:908
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