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Recall the stigma of stigmatism, and that those pincers is...or sometimes are. (Wood on Words).

Best comparison heard in the palindromic year just gone by: "Slower than a slug in a glue pot." (Due credit to radio station WRKO Boston, USA.)

But fair is fair, and it was an RKO commentator who opined, "Everyone in America knows there is a stigmatism attached (to politicians) from Massachusetts." Close, but the cheroot eludes. Listen up! Stigmatism means "the condition of being affected by stigmata." Stigmata is a plural of stigma. Noun stigma signifies "A mark or token of infamy, disgrace, or reproach. 2) a small mark; a scar or birthmark ...."

Stigma works, and should replace stigmatism, which may also mean "normal eyesight." One will wager that most listeners heard astigmatism--a kind of visual defect--and totally lost sight of whatever the message was supposed to be.

And the mention of a scar (just above) calls to mind a solecism uttered by U.S. TV news anchor Tom Brokaw in early November: Said Mr. B., "For many, the scars have not healed."

Scars do not heal; wounds heal...leaving scars. > Beverly Jurkowski, who collects a paycheck as manager of organizational communications for We Energies, Milwaukee, USA, e-mailed this workstation recently to ask "Have you ever done a piece on the inappropriate use of significant and significantly? Drives me nuts to see usage of significant when the writer/speaker really means big or large." I said no, and our colleague kindly sent along the following:

"Somewhere in our common usage--the likely culprits probably worked in corporate settings--the word significant became synonymous with large, huge, considerable, big, etc.

"All too often I read or hear sentences where significant and significantly are used when the writer means large.... Are other editors as disturbed? Here's an example, from Stages magazine, published by Fidelity Investments, Boston:

"'Cassise has been more conservative with his investments in recent years, moving a significant portion of his retirement assets into a conservative investment option, which has provided modest but steady returns....'

"My American Heritage Dictionary says significant really means having or expressing a meaning, meaningful. Perhaps Mr. Cassise's actions were meaningful, but my guess is that the writer really meant that this gentleman moved a large portion of his assets."

Desktop lexicons hereabouts concur with AHD that the idea of size is best left to other words, and present as synonyms expressive, eloquent, meaningful. AHD notes that "These adjectives mean effectively conveying a feeling, idea or mood: an expressive gesture; an eloquent speech; a meaningful look; a significant smile." My thanks to BJ.

* A local metro newspaper runs a feature story that lists "furnishings and accessories (including) two sets of bedsheets valued at nearly $6,000 and $2,900 worth of coat hangers. It begs the question (couldn't less be spent with the same result)?"

Here the writer would have profited from a glance into Paul R. Martin's "Guide To Business Style and Usage" (The Wall Street Journal, Simon & Schuster, 2002):

"beg the question: Generally use raise the question or evade the issue instead, if that is the intended meaning. Begging the question refers to the use of an argument that assumes the truth of what you are trying to prove. A better-understood term for this is circular logic." Our newspaper cite wants for raises or invites.

* The lede in a news story centered in Philadelphia, said "With a fire in the hearth and patrons lined up at the bar (a local drinkery awaited conventioneers)

Webster's New World College Dict. (4th ed. 1999, Macmillan) observes at hearth, "1 The stone or brick floor of a fireplace, often extending out into the room." All other wordworks agree, suggesting that a fire may be in a fireplace, but it is on the hearth.

* The top page-one story in the November 12 Wall Street Journal told about the awful plight of people who are uninsured and sick. The writer described how one woman was "Trapped in a pincer of soaring drug and medical costs and unaffordable health insurance

A pincer is something that resembles one of the grasping parts of a set of pincers. Here the writer's eye and ear call for pincers, the tool that has a pair of jaws and handles. And take your pick--pincers is or pincers are.

Alden Wood, APR, lecturer on editorial procedures at Simmons College, Boston, USA, writes and lectures on language usage. He is a retired insurance industry vice president of advertising and public relations. His e-dress is WoodonWords@aol.com.
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Author:Wood, Alden
Publication:Communication World
Date:Feb 1, 2003
Words:737
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