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Did anorexia do the deed to the dinos?

David "King of the Wild Frontier" Crockett, a hero of American folklore in the first third of the nineteenth century and 1960s kidvid, said in his autobiography, "I leave this rule for others when I'm dead/Be always sure you're right -- then go ahead."

Would that more of us recollected Crockett's credo.

For instance, a usage columnist of international repute wrote in his July column about "one of Elwyn Brooks White's more memorable advisories." In response came in inquiry from Debby Brasel, who is an editor in the public relations department at Central Illinois Public Service Co., Springfield: "Shouldn't 'more memorable advisories' read 'most memorable advisories'? Or were only two advisories memorable? Please explain ...."

Better/best I should leave the explaining to John E. Warriner and his excellent text on English grammar and composition: "In standard English usage employ the comparative degree when comparing more than two. Examples: The doctors tried both penicillin and sulfanilamide; the penicillin proved to be the more (not most) effective drug. I chose this book because it was the shortest (not shorter) of the three."

My thanks to reader Brasel for the wake-up call. Meanwhile I must brush up on my Crockettiana....

* Here's one for you, a sentence lifted from a Boston Globe editorial: "The crewmen of the Russian ships won the hearts of Boston, showing up at neighborhood barbeques in South Weymouth (and other towns)." Arising from the American Spanish barbacoa -- "framework of sticks" -- the word is properly spelled barbecue.

* Another IABC word freak -- Dawn Williams, account coordinator and writer for Mobium Corporation, Chicago -- kindly sent me "a grammar goof I spotted recently ... in the National Institute of Investor Relations newsletter." In the closing graf of an article on annual report preparation, the writer declares, "With 90 percent of U.S. companies on a calendar year, the delays over triviality can really reek havoc in the print shops ...."

Here is one more compelling argument against decriminalizing otoorthography, commonly called "spelling by ear." It may look like a reek, walk like a reek, and very likely reek like a reek, but what must be printed here is wreak. Wreak is pronounced reek, but it means "1. To inflict (vengeance or punishment) upon a person. 2. To express or gratify (anger, malevolence, or resentment); vent. 3. To bring about; cause: wreak havoc." (American heritage 3rd Ed.) The dictionary's Usage Note at wreak reminds the searcher of yet another possible problem: "Wreak is sometimes confused with wreck, perhaps because the wreaking of damage may leave a wreck: The storm wreaked (not wrecked) havoc along the coast. The past tense and past participle of wreak is wreaked, not wrought, which is an alternative past tense and past participle of work."

Reek, it should be noted, has three principal definitions: "1. To smoke, steam, or fume. 2. To be pervaded by something unpleasant: 'This document ... reeks of self-pity and self-deception' 3. To give off or become permeated with a strong, unpleasant odor: 'Grandma, who reeks of face powder and lilac water.'" (AHD 3)

* Three direct-mail pitches invaded our mailbox in recent weeks ... actually a lot more than three, but these three, well ... reek.

The Department of the Treasury (United States Mint) mailed a four-color booklet touting the new White House 200th Anniversary Coin. Rich in graphic design and notes on historic incidents, the booklet relates how "First Lady Dolly Madison saved (a) famous portrait of George Washington from destruction in the War of 1812."

Hello, Dolly? Yes. Dolly Parton? Yes. Mistress Madison? D-O-L-L-E-Y. Like, all it takes is a glance in the desk lexicon: Webster's New World Dictionary, ever editor-friendly, prints "Madison 1. Dolley (or, incorrectly, Dolly) (born Dorothea Payne) 1768-1849 ...' AHD 3 prints a mini-biography which observes that Dolley Payne Todd Madison "earlier served as White House hostess for the widowed Thomas Jefferson." And Random House Webster's College dict., in a lurch toward gross linguistic malfeasance, displays "Madison n. 1. Dolly or Dolley ...." Good bye, Dolly.

From Salt Lake City, Utah, comes a mailer that offers "The Biggest Genealogical Breakthrough EVER!" This is a book that provides "listings of addresses, dates of formation ... for every country and New England town in the United States." Let me see, now; all New England towns outside the U.S. must be omitted. That's cool, I guess.

The Smithsonian Institute offered me a "Cash Voucher worth $10" if I'd sign on as a "National Associate." I browsed the first page only to be actionized (I just made that up) by the implication that anorexia may have hastened the demise of the dinosaurs. You doubt this? Alors, the fifth graf speaks about "computer graphics that pinpoint the age and diets of animal skeletons millions of years old."

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; errors in usage of language terms
Author:Wood, Alden S.
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Words:814
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