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Parlez-vous parlay? Or is it parley?

For years I have prospected for phrases to replace three cliches that appear with some consistency. My quest to melt "tip of the iceberg" lies alongside the Titanic, a voyage incomplete; the gross expression "things finally came to a head" still endures; and although I think "let's shoot with a rifle, not with a shotgun" may give way to "let's use a laser, not a floodlamp," there's a better way to handle that one, too, just waiting for discovery.

But now, thanks to a Boston Globe writer, we do have a substitute expression to label the income of someone who's just reached the seven-figure plateau. I like it for its freshness and brevity: a two-comma income.

Steal it now, while it's hot.

* Bungee words are those than can snap back, not in the joyous, breath-seizing rebound of the daredevil harness-diver, but with the sting of a snapped rubber band. Ouch! Reading these may be help you avoid getting zapped:

"BRISTOL, England -- There was a time in the Middle Ages when an ambassador venturing out from a besieged city to parlay with the besiegers might well rise higher in the world than he expected."

An engaging opener ... to the point, suspenseful, the periodic sentence doing its job right. It launched a good piece about building a trebuchet, or stone-throwing siege engine. It also launched parlay, which almost, but not quite, won a cheroot. To parlay is "to bet (an original wager plus its winnings) on another race, contest, etc.; to exploit (an asset) successfully [to parlay one's voice into fame]." What the writer needs here is parley, the entry immediately below -lay in Webster's New World: "to have a conference or discussion, esp. with an enemy; confer."

When in doubt, ask Vanna for a vowel or double-check your posit in your favorite word pinata. The intelligent reader is always rattled by an error right at the top of a story. She may well question the value of the rest.

* "Then (a jet fighter) buzzed the fisherman again, he said, adding, 'It's not accidental when you do a 360-degree turn and come back and do it again.'"

To do a three-sixty -- kids driving on thick-frozen ponds called it "doin' doughnuts -- is to spin or turn your vehicle all the way around and continue on in the same direction. Should the reporter have been charitable and edited the quote to the correct 180-degree? The AP stylebook intones, "Never alter quotations even to correct minor grammatical errors or word usage. Casual minor tongue slips may be removed by using ellipses but even that should be done with extreme caution." Kinder and gentler UPI opines, "Quotations normally should be corrected to avoid the errors that often occur unnoticed when someone is speaking but are embarrassing in print."

Take you pick. The U.S. New & World Report Stylebook adds, "If the quote does not make sense as spoken, the only solution is to give up the quote or query the person quoted." The larger question here may be, did the reporter know the difference?

* "The reality is that Junior Patriarca was to the Mafia what Fred Wang was to the computer business. He was to the manor -- or, in this case, to the vending machine company -- born."

Q quick jaunt into Bartlett's Familiar Quotations would have spared this writer embarrassment; a look at William and Mary Morris's Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage would have given more background: "At first glance, it does seem there is some logic to 'to the manor born,' if the meaning were merely 'born to high estate or riches,' as symbolized by a manor house. However, the meaning of the expression is 'fitted by endowment or birth for a certain position in life.' The source of the popularity of this phrase and an example of its correct use may be found in 'Hamlet' (Act 1, Scene 4). Horatio asks Hamlet whether the carousing of the court under the new king is customary. Hamlet answers: "Ay, marry, is't; /But to my mind, though I am native here / And to the manner born, it is a custom more honour'd in the breach than the observance.'"

* "The December issue (of a magazine) is all about the war, the perfect stocking -- or puttee -- stuffer for anyone whose heart beats faster (with patriotism)."

If you recall those archival photos of World War I doughboys home on leave, you may remember that, from the knees down, their legs appeared to be encased in strips of cloth wound spirally around from ankle to knee. In fact, they were! Puttee comes from the Hindi patti, for bandage, strip of cloth. Anyone who can stuff a puttee can tie a shoe one-handed.

* A national feature story range-in with this hoary solecism: "Isadora Duncan ... strangled to death in France in 1972 when the end of her scarf got caught in the wheel of her open sports car..."

John Bremner's Words on Words responds to strangled to death with the fewest words possible: "Redundant." Ted Bernstein observes, "Delete to death. That's what strangled means."

* "A bail bondsman sees many youths whose older brothers and siblings (escape bad environments)." One's brothers and sisters are one's siblings, older or younger.

* Let's see now, millennium .. two l's and two n's, right? Right!

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.
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Woods on Words; on the proper use of words
Author:Wood, Alden S.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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