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Reins rules over reigns; Dylan and TSE in jam about bang/whimper v. do not go gentle; thus prevails.

Reader Kris Gallagher, ABC, e-mails this workstation from her employ at DePaul U. on E. Jackson Blvd. to report "an egregious item" she saw in the Chicago Sun Times on 12 Jan.

"In 1988 Cappo handed over the reigns of CCB to Gloria Scoby...."

Kris stood in her stirrups and nayed, "As an avid horsewoman, I know he handed over the reins (attached to the bridle). Kings reign. Reins steer."

Always pay attention. This will amaze and gratify your readers.

> A recent Boston Globe sports story led with "Let the games begin ... Boston College's 2003-04 regular season came to an end last night in Dylan Thomas-esque fashion--with a whimper, not a bang."

Right metaphor, perhaps, but wrong resource. Thomas may be best remembered for "Do not go gentle into that good night.... Rage, rage against the dying of the light." But what the Globe writer had in his head was Thomas Stearns Eliot's "Hollow Men," and its droning close: "This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper."

Kindly reread paragraph four, supra ... copy it onto a sticky note ... put it on your screen.

> A different league, a different series, a different lede, but a same-old same old solecism in the close: "a top scout for the Marlins assessed his team's chances thusly...."

John Bremner's Words on Words acknowledges thusly thus: "Thusly A barbarous version of thus. Thus is already an adverb."

> Sometimes it seems that certain words endure as trouble-makers, and I submit mortar as a prime target. Noun mortar can mean a vessel in which substances are crushed, or a machine in which materials are ground up. It can i.d. various bonding materials used in masonry. But it may be best known as--and here I borrow from definition 3a in my American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed.--"A portable, muzzleloading cannon used to fire shells at low velocities, short ranges, and high trajectories."

Despite the clear delineation--seen in most lexicons--writers and speakers of news regularly misspeak when this particular artillery piece is mentioned.

For example, in an evening broadcast, ABC news said that a number of people died when "six mortars struck a U.S. base in Iraq." Not the case. Not. The mortar is a small cannon that fires shells at the enemy. The exploding shells cast high-speed shards of shell casing and shrapnel into the ranks of the opposition, causing the carnage.

The Wall Street Journal said on 13 Feb. how insurgents "shot up the bridge with machine guns (and) rained mortars on the troops at the base...." Again, not the case. Not. The insurgents rained mortar fire or shells on their enemies. Those of us in corporate communication may never deal with the awful bloodfire of combat, but when we are called upon to tell its story, we need to tell it right.

> The WSJ's Business World column of 10 March commented on the misfortunes of Disney's Michael Eisner, suggesting that "Disney shareholders wouldn't be served by Mr. Eisner ducking out precipitously...." Two sticking points here: 1) gerund ducking out signals that Eisner wants for possession: Eisner's; 2) Dame Usage decrees that precipitous be used for physical characteristics ("a precipitous cliff") and precipitate for actions ("precipitate firings") or, as here, precipitate departure.

> A valued stepdaughter who runs with the financial crowd in Boston reports hearing that when a company outsources its IT work to a large technology outfit, there is a process the big dogs use--called transition and transformation--to demonstrate how procedures, processes, and the like morph from the client's way of doing things to the big dog's way. Predictably, conflicts arise, and when this happens, a "process of compromise" is instituted. Also predictably, a formidable neologism has emerged to i.d. the new process: transformediation. Yo, how much edgier can you get? (You're welcome.)

Alden Wood, professor emeritus at Simmons College, Boston, Mass., 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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Title Annotation:wood on words
Author:Wood, Alden
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2004
Words:684
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