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Nucor's iconic leader remembered for his 'principals' in lame encomium. (Wood on Words).

My East Coast edition of The Wall Street Journal for 4/17 presented on page A17 a roster of testimonials for E Kenneth Iverson, pioneering Nucor executive who died April 14. If the huge Charlotte-based steelmaker paid retail for its full-page notice, the tab was just a tad over US$142,000. A fair price, considering the real estate involved.

But what struck me as grossly unfair was whatever fee Nucor paid its copywriter. The three-sentence encomium at the base of the page included this: "Nucor's 8,400 employees are saddened by his passing, but committed to his principals." Bummer. Nucor and its late iconic leader deserved far better treatment than this; the following appears on p. 465 of "Words into Type": "principal, principle -- Still confused, despite appearances on every list of misused words of this century and last. Principle (n.): a basic belief or truth ('Stick to our principles'); principal (adj.): most important ('His principal demand')."

Next to mis-chiseling the name on a tombstone, this may be as bad as it gets.

* Several years ago a high-budget magazine named Massachusetts in Perspective was published to tout the Commonwealth as a good place in which to start a business. Under the subheading Literature, readers were told about the Bay State's great tradition of literature and its links to such illustrious authors as "Samuel Elliott Morrison...Archibald McLeish."

How does a writer develop the temerity needed to tackle two such names without even a glance into a biographical dictionary? The mandatory spellings are: Samuel Eliot Morison...Archibald MacLeish. Mind your p's and q's as well as your I's and t's and r's and a's. Word-workers with this kind of hubris will also assure you that Joyce Kilmer was a woman and George Sand, a man.

* Is the U.S. Coast Guard guilty of an occasional voyage into the Sargasso Sea of gobbledygook? Local news media reports seem to suggest this:

A Boston newspaper, reporting on the cause of a collision between a Coast Guard cutter and a freighter, quoted the USCG finding that the cutter's skipper "did not comprehend that the vessels were in a meeting situation...." Whatever happened to dependable on a collision course? What's wrong with about to collide? Can there be a euphemism less saline than meeting situation? Please pass the salt.

In an unrelated incident, a local newsperson was interviewing a CG official about a tanker that had leaked a small amount of oil into Boston Harbor. Proving his facility with on-camera vocabulary, the official intoned that the ship had indeed "gravitated product."

Semper paratus.

* Medical terminology is almost always hazardous to the health of us lay writers. A local newspaper reporter has described a child as being afflicted with spinal bifida. Perhaps our colleague heard the words, or possibly half-heard them while on the run with a deadline yapping in his tracks. But spelling by ear--this station calls it oto-orthography--is a dangerous practice.

In this instance what was misheard was I. The two-word phrase is defined as follows in American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition: "A congenital defect in which the spinal column is imperfectly closed so that part of the meninges or spinal cord protrudes, often resulting in hydrocephalus and other neurological disorders." The correct presentation again: spina bifida. The careful writer will also avoid assiduously the Lorelei phrases vocal chords and spinal chord. Use cord.

* Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, published the fourth edition of its American Heritage(r) College Dictionary last April. The $25.00 lexicon contains 1,936 pages and displays more than 7,500 new words and senses. Principal among these is the dual entry "9-11 or 9/11 n September 11, 2001, the date on which two hijacked airliners were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City and another into the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked airliner crashed in open land in Pennsylvania."

The new tome includes many new computer and Internet terms along with freshly minted words in science, politics, business, and the arts. Thousands of definitions have been updated, particularly in areas like astronomy and immunology.

Alden Wood, APR, lecturer on editorial procedures at Simmons College, Boston, writes and lectures on language usage.
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Author:Wood, Alden
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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