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It was a dark and stormy night when Eloise decided to wing it to Logan...

The phenomenon known as otoorthography, aka Spelling By Ear, showed no sign of failing during the segue from '00 to '01.

A Boston Globe sportswriter led her 12/9 story on another Bruins hockey defeat with "COLUMBUS, Ohio -- You know things are in pretty dire straights...." This context wants for straits, meaning to be in distress or difficulty. Next I read a Reuters dispatch on how a drug called nefopam may stop hiccups: "The closure of the vocal chords...leads to the hiccuping sound." Cords. Anyone who can do vocal chords should get a good agent...today.

* A Boston Globe staff writer related a happy little tale about a pet cockatiel -- "a warmblooded bird of Australian origin" -- that flew outdoors of a chill winters night and stayed out. The anxious owners couldn't find Eloise, and so "left their windows open all night lest she fly back home." (Now we know what cockatielaphilia is.)

Back in a moment, but first, to business: Merriam-Webster's 10th Collegiate Dictionary assures me that even a cold turkey has warm blood, as do all avians, so warmblooded can go. But diminutive lest conveys the exact opposite of what the writer wants to say: The conjunction is defined thus in American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition: "For fear that: tiptoed lest the guard should hear her; anxious lest he become ill." Substitute hoping she'd return, or in hopes that she'd fly back, for lest she fly back home.

And, yes, birders, your E-bird got lucky. She went into a flap that brought her to the Hyatt Harborside Hotel at Logan Airport, about a mile distant, where on final approach she laid a head-butt on the big, glass front door. Staffers let her in, revived her with TLC, confirmed her ID, and got her a ride home.

Typing ID and TLC reminds me of a miscue that appeared in a major association-mag story late last year. Headed Cut the Jargon, the piece opines, "Another popular form of 'jargoneering' is what (the writer calls) 'the parade of acronyms.' It includes terms like BIOS, PCMCIA, RAM, ROM, OSB."

Major desktop lexicons concur with the American Heritage 4th definition of noun acronym: "A word formed from the initial letters of a name, such as WAG for Women's Army Corps or by combining initial letters of a series of words such as radar for radio detecting and ranging." The key clue here is that an acronym is a word, a pronounceable entity; IABC, PRSA, NAACP are not acronyms because they cannot be uttered as words. Like unutterable PCMCIA, OSB, et al., they are correctly called initialisms, which AHD4 defines as "n. An abbreviation consisting of the first letter or letters of words in a phrase (for example IRS for Internal Revenue Service), syllables or components of a word (TNT for trinitrotoluene), or a combination of words or syllables (ESP for extrasensory perception) and pronounced by spelling out the letters one by one rather than as a solid word."

Preserve the difference; prevent a snafu.

* While vetting acronym, incidentally, I came upon off-road acrolect, yet another noun we can use. "n. The variety of speech that is closest to a standard prestige language, especially in an area in which creole is spoken. For example, Standard Jamaican English is the acrolect where Jamaican Creole is spoken." If, like me, you nodded during Creole 101, you'll probably find this flashcard of use: "creolized language n. A language derived from a pidgin but more complex in grammar and vocabulary than the ancestral pidgin because it has become the native tongue of a community."

* Think-tank editor and faithful contributor Kathleen Much was amused by this sign she saw out her way: Mendocino Humane Society Flea Market. Said she, "They probably have a lot of them to sell."

* Arizona State p.r. director Wilma Mathews was slumming in an astrology site recently and caught this item from the Tack/Tact School of Copyediting: "In order to get your ducts lined up, you...will have to take a breather...." Our question -- "Will Wilma make it through air-conditioning school?" We are forwarding some duck tape.

* And Sandie Osborne, senior proposal manager for The Oceanic Institute, Waimanalo, Hawaii, e-mails that the following message "came to me a while ago... as a holiday greeting: "We here at A&E Interactive would like...to wish you and yours'...a happy...season." Asks our colleague from the way far-out west, "What's with this you and YOURS'??? (me and mines'?) The yours I can deal with, but the apostrophe???"

Point taken. A&E's grammarian needs to review the rules governing the pronominal possessives. Jonathan Swift and Jane Austen may have written your's and her's, but that was back in that other millennium. Nowadays all these pronouns, including ours and theirs, are written sans apostrophe. If there is a persistent infraction, it's the one seen in this cite from the 12/18/2K edition of PRWEEK, in the National Horse Show story: "But it's original and exclusive venue, Madison Square Garden (was unavailable)...." It's signifies it is; "It's a nice day," or it has; "It's been a long time." The possessive form is always spelled its.

* Investment tip! Should you discover U.S. $14 unemployed, consider grabbing Allan Metcalf's new "How We Talk," a 206-page Houghton-Mifflin trade paperback that discusses hundreds of American regional expressions. Every editor will find a hand here: Is it tonic or soda? Do you wait in or on line? You can be sure your off-campus readers will know what's right; here, confirmations abound.

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, Alden
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Words:952
Previous Article:Visually literate magazine covers grab readers, tell stories.
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