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Not unpolitically correct comments.

In a U.S. News & World Report column on what is politically correct, an item says, "The Eddie Bauer catalog offers pitch-saturated kindling wood 'felled by lightening or other natural causes.'"

Here is copy to warm a tree-hugger's heart .'.. at first bark. But I find a major splinter. If kindling wood is "any sticks or scraps of dry wood suitable for starting a fire"- and dictionaries agree it is just that - how does it get "felled by lightning?" I don't know about you, but this tenderfoot has yet to spot his first kindling-wood tree. One envisions a rain-drenched forest ranger, shouting into his radio mike, "All right, we just had a bolt hit that big kindlingswood tree on Bearcat Ridge. Man, there's kindling all over the place! Patch me through to Eddie Bauer!"

Careful writers run routine reality checks on their work to confinn that all is progressing as it should. This whimsical item is an example of wording that, like a two-year-old momentarily unguarded, suddenly wanders away. Be ye ever watchful.

* The initialism PC is being published more and more nowadays, albeit only one 1990s dictionary defines it. Just as a refresher, here is the phrase according to the Random House Webster's College D. -"politically correct, adj. Marked by or adhering to a typically progressive ortho| doxy on issues involving esp. race, gender, sexual affinity, or ecology. Abbr.: PC, P.C. - political correctness n."

Users of PC unglossed must recall the letters also can signify personal computer, Peace Corps, printed circuit, postcard, percent, and protective custody.

. Is the editor as proofreader redundant? Probably not so long as citations like the following continue to eruct. Test your PC (personal capacity) by finding the soft spots in 1 ) the lead of a book review printed in a journal of Wall Street, and 2) the close of a Reuters dispatch:

1. "The sad facts of Edgar Allen Poe's life seem unremarkable (in terms of tragedy or even weirdness) when compared with the lives routinely paraded before us by Oprah or Phil or Sally Jesse."

The sad fact here is the arrogance of the writer, who couldn't be bothered to look and learn that Poe spelled it Allan, not Allen. The same savoir-faire dissed the reader with Sally Jessy spelled Sally Jesse.

2. "He said the coelacanth was believed to have been extinct for about 100 years, until one was caught off the South African Coast in 1938."

The so-called living fossil, thought to be the forerunner of land vertebrates, presumably went off the scope at the close of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. But, hey, who's counting? What's a couple years? The land vertebrate who researched this story should sleep with the fishes.

* Mindy Pollack, APR, principal of her own PR firm in Bedford, Mass., sent me this intriguing clip: "Last month, a fiveyear-old girl was bitten by a rabid raccoon on a sidewalk in Fairfield. A New Canaan man was bitten by a rabid raccoon when he tried to enter his tool shed." As Mindy suggests, that will teach the guy to stay out of the raccoon's tool shed.

* None of us is perfect, but it strikes me that when the PRSA Foundation elects to publish a monograph in which it defines public relations, it should pay attention to its words. Under the headline "What Public Relations Is," on page two, we read, "The formal practice of what today is called public relations is less than 100 years old. Yet during its relatively brief history, public relations has been defined in many widely differing ways.

"Not unsurprisingly, the earliest definitions emphasized the roles of press agent and publicity...."

Excuse me, but why the double negative, the not un| construction? Although we can find defenses of not un| (see litotes in your usage book), William Satire calls it "convoluted" and adds, "Most often 'not un-' is effete affectation used by people who know what they are not but are uncertain about what they are." George Orwell spoke pointedly of it, saying in Prose and Politics, "[It] should ... be possible to laugh the not un| formation out of existence .... "His footnote on the matter: "One can cure oneself of the not un| formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field."

I do not think the PRSA composer is guilty of pretentiousness or any other excess; besides, I'm sure she or he did the work pro bono. My cavil is with an expression that is hard to understand and, in truth, superfluous. To the average reader, ever on the run, what isn't unsurprising is most likely surprising, but that isn't the case here. The possibilities: 1 ) use Not surprisingly, or 2) start with "The earliest definitions .... "

* Cliff McGoon writes with a citation from Business Week that "lends new potential to the misuse of criteria and criterion." Columnist Suzanne Woolley quotes a research director: "'That shouldn't be a criterium .... '" The column is headlined "Smart Money"; Cliff pencilled in "Dumb Writing."

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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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Wood on Words; erroneous comments
Author:Wood, Alden S.
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Column
Date:Apr 1, 1992
Words:869
Previous Article:Freedom of speech vs. politically correct language.
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