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Is Branta canadensis the foulest of the fowl? Is dove a bird or a verb or both? Audubon voyage....

Longtime pal and IABC pro Gregg Trusty, who does his qwerty work in the Shreveport, La., ADI, was reading his Sunday Times on 3 Aug. 2003 when he spotted a wetlands sidebar that lamented the "reduction of waterfoul population...." Even the local writer will now and then tumble over a familiar phrase. Gregg was ready for this homophonous horror, however, and passed along the citation for our benefit. Most waterfowl are not over-foul, unless you count Canada geese.

Nota bene--The common wild goose of North America, aka Branta canadensis, is the Canada--never Canadian--goose.

* Another IABC friend of long standing checks in from Arizona State U. with her observations about writing style. "In the AP story about the Staten Island ferry accident yesterday (15 Oct. 2003), this paragraph jumped off the page: 'Commuters were trapped in piles of debris aboard the 22-year-old ferry, and victims screamed and dove for cover as metal crunched into wood just before the start of the evening rush hour, tearing girders, splintering planks and ripping a huge hole in the right side of the three level, bright orange vessel.'"

Observes Wilma K. Mathews, ABC, who is director of p.r. at ASU/Tempe, "Methinks the writer was a fresh out-of school rookie and no editor was available to help him." Agree.

The phrase "dove for cover" set a small red light to winking on our editorial dashboard, so we pawed pages over to number 75 in our AP stylebook (2003), where we found: "dive, dived, diving--Not dove for the past tense." Another respected manual, The Wall Street Journal's "Guide to Business Style and Usage" (2002) by Paul R. Martin, also employs a nine word admonition, but includes an elbow: "dove--a bird. The past tense of dive is dived."

* Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy observed, "Which (a Red Sox action) begs the question, How come Sox stars behave like babies (in Yankee Stadium)? ..."

The first thing to remember is that to beg the question is NOT the same as to invite the question. The WSJ's Guide cautions us that "Begging the question refers to the use of an argument that assumes the truth of what you are trying to prove. (A better understood term for this is circular logic.)" Paul Martin's suggestion here is, "Generally use raise the question or evade the issue instead, if that is the intended meaning."

* Loris Mann, who is corporate comms. specialist at Per-Se Technologies, Atlanta, writes to say, "I came across the phrase 'The majority of our revenue comes from XXX.' I feel that it should be 'Most of our revenue comes from XXX.' But I can't pin down why, and I can't find a rule in AP or Chicago to back me up.

"is there a definite rule I can use to settle this issue?"

The response from this workstation: "The following paragraph is lifted from page 235 of one of the best usage books I have ever used--'Words on Words,' by John R. Bremner, Columbia U. Press, New York, 1980--'Unless you are contrasting a majority with a minority, most is better than majority most of the time. And don't use majority to refer to the greater part of something that is not countable as in "the majority of the area is zoned for commercial use"; make it "most of the area" or "the greater part of the area."'"

* Another IABC professional, Kathleen Much, who earns her bread and beans in the shadow of fair Stanford, e-mailed this object lesson on the need to do the research ... and double-check it:

"Batten down the hatches, Alden. I noticed in a recent Publishers Weekly that some woman named Scotti has published a book claiming that the 1938 hurricane was the worst in American history. Sorry to disabuse her, but the 1900 Storm killed more than 6,000 Galvestonians (Texas), almost 10 times as many as the 682 dead in 1938."

Alden Wood, professor emeritus at Simmons College, Boston, USA, writes and lectures on language usage. He is a retired insurance industry vice president of advertising and public relations. His e-dress is WoodonWords@aol.com.
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Title Annotation:wood on words
Author:Wood, Alden
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Words:682
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