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Monogamy for the nineties: you can enjoy it serially or with Wheaties!

I have in hand a report from the Sex Information and Education Council of the U.S. advising me that whenever a sexually active young woman receives a prescription for oral contraception, it's likely she and her partner will continue to be sexually active, will cease using condoms, and will elevate their risk of acquiring and transmitting STD/HIV infection "during their sexual careers of serial monogamy."

Serial monogamy is only a delicious oxymoron; I am still puzzling over sexual career: American Heritage III defines noun career as a chosen pursuit; a profession or occupation. So a sexual career would seem best suited to prosties on either side of the aisle. Once one can rationalize each trick into an instance of monogamy -- excepting the occasional menage a trois -- perhaps meaning will emerge. I said perhaps ... (I must mention that those who still eat only Wheaties are practicing cereal monogamy. This must not be confused with whatever in hell that other thing is.)

* "Here's one for you," announced ABC Tom Schwarzkopf in his letter from STENTOR Canadian Network Management, Ottawa, earlier this year. Canada's satellite system had just suffered its worst failure, and Tom was absorbed in the Citizen Valley's account of how "the E-1 satellite suddenly went on the blitz...rolling end over end."

"'Blink,' maybe...'fritz' possibly," muttered TS, "but 'blitz'?!"

The inadvertent portmanteau word -- BLink + frITZ -- already has a seat in the lexicons. Born in 1939, child of German blitz (lightning) and krieg (war), the term means a violent surprise offensive by massed air forces and mechanized ground forces. As Tom suggests, on the blink or on the fritz is needed: each signifies a state of disrepair or disability.

* A similar mixup with sound-alikes occurred in Wall Street Journal stories, one op-ed, the other on page one. The lead in the pg. 1 piece: "WALI, Vanuatu -- Precariously perched atop a rickety, 80-foot tower of sticks lashed together with vines...." The op-ed story said, "On two of the evenings after paddling the entire day, the group latched their canoes together and created a large ... raft."

Which will you vote for? Lash means "To secure or bind, as with a rope, cord, or chain," says AHD3. That works here. Latch as verb means "To close or lock with or as if with a latch," and a latch is "a fastening, as for a door or gate, typically consisting of a bar that fits into a notch or slot and is lifted from either side by a lever or string." From this arose latchkey (1825) and -- just 50 years ago -- latchkey child, sometimes called doorkey child, the socioeconomic label for "a young child of working parents who must spend part of the day unsupervised (as at home) -- called also latchkey kid" (Merriam-Webster's 10th).

* Two memorable instances of earspell now appear, thanks to the vigilance of readers from Alberta, Canada, and Arizona, USA: Sheila Foster, IABC board secretary and wordsmith for Target Communications, Calgary, was reading the Calgary Herald when she was stopped by "Clients also report a dirth of humor at their former companies." Birth, yes; girth, yes; firth, yes. But dirth should be dearth ... and how did the writer keep from saying "a dearth of mirth?" Probably has more class than I.

Earspell II arrived from Phoenix and The Arizona Republic thanks to ABC Wilma Mathews, whose note said simply, "This is the first time I've seen this one ...."

The citation reads "Last fall it donned on me ...." For the record, dawned. And I hope it's the last time, Wilma.

Finally, ABC Dave Park flamed Scroll magazine for sanctioning this lead: "Thanks to WordStar's Correct Letters program you're problems are solved." Your KIDDING!!

* Volume I of the new three-part Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (HDAS) continues to receive plaudits, including this assertion from the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, John Simpson: "This is a remarkable compendium of American slang, a landmark publication, at one stroke sweeping its predecessors into the shade." HDAS lists virtually every word of English slang used in the U.S. during the past four centuries, and this initial public offering -- 1,080 pages, U.S. $50 -- presents the words that begin with A to G. It contains more than 20,000 definitions and 90,000 citations. The second volume, covering H through R, will appear in the spring of 1996; volume 3, letters S-Z, comes out in spring, 1997.

Written by Dr. J.E. Lighter, HDAS gives insight into how slang reflects the history of America itself, and it lets readers trace the path each slang word or expression has traveled in its lifetime.

Those with interest in the f-word may discover more than they ever wanted to know: Pages 830 to 843 display it as interjection, noun, verb, adjective, expletive, adverb, infix (as in abso-effing-lutely), and as phrasemaker, acronym, and initialism.

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. (His Internet code is awood
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Title Annotation:Woods on Words; misused words
Author:Wood, Alden
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 1, 1994
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