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You got a problem with center around? How about skuttle?

Add to your roster of possible problems with English: You may have a game leg, but not a game arm, knee or finger. Of course, if you're game, little will faze you. You are invincible when your peers say you've got game ... and maybe you get the game ball.

A recent Boston Globe item says "perhaps your morning errands center around trips to the post office, the bank...." Beware the all-too-often-seen center around, and heed the sound advice from John B. Bremner in his Words on Words:

"It is physically impossible to center around. Make it center on. If you want to use around, use it with cluster, hover, revolve, rotate. Use around with circle when the context is dynamic ('The protesters continuously circled around the stadium'), but not when the context is static ('Police circled the hijacked plane')."

A cutline in the same newspaper reads, "A statue of Colonel Seth Warren of the Green Mountain Boys flanks the Bennington Battle Monument...." According to American Heritage Dictionary IV, to flank is to guard the left or right side of a structure, an endless task at this tall, four-sided stone tower. Consider stands guard at or beside.

Courtesy of longtime IABC friend and correspondent Wilma Mathews, who directs PR goings-on at Arizona State University, Phoenix, we have in hand a tearsheet from the Arizona Republic. The six-column ad placed by the Arizona Heart institute and Hospital opened with this all-caps screamer: THEY LITERALLY SAVED ME--HEART AND SOLE

A Blue Cross Blue Shield flier sent to Massachusetts members this fall carried a flu vaccine update. Among its bullet points: "Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs." Does the writer mean frequent hand-washing is a help, or simply that washing one's hands is good prophylaxis? If the latter point is key, the writer might have put down "Clean your hands. Oftentimes washing your hands will protect you from germs."

Here's a glitch spotted in a Chicago-based PR company's flier announcing a workshop: "A successful PR program isn't complete without knowing how your audience feels about your organization." The sentence structure obliges the reader to believe that the program is capable of understanding the organization. Instead, try this: "You cannot launch a successful PR program unless you know how your readers feel (or what they think) about the company."

Parade magazine dated Sunday, 28 Nov. 2004, disrespected the memory of Nobel scientist Marie Curie in its identification of her for its cover story, "The Untold Story of Madame Curie." The piece itself was first-rate. Author Barbara Goldsmith told how Curie wasn't French; "she wasn't even Marie. She was born Marya Salomee Sklodowska in 1867 in Warsaw, Poland." One particularly poignant paragraph read "Her family was desperately poor--poor in a way that a stamp, or a skuttle of coal or an occasional apple, was a treat." A pity that Parade permitted spelled-by-ear skuttle into her story. All lexicons in this venue spell the synonym for hod with a c: scuttle.

Look things up. Try to get them right. This will amaze and gratify your readers.

Longtime writerly friend Bob Hill, who works in nearby Littleton, Mass., publishes a useful newsletter he calls Words About Words. No. 31 recently arrived, bearing what follows:

"Absolutely Worst Trend in Ad Copy. The advertising world is responsible for a widespread atrocity that takes the form of 'PLUS you get this wonderful free gift!'" Plus is fine when you are talking about something added to something else (two plus two is more than three). But it's a definite minus when misused in the sense of 'what's more.' Over and above the fact that all gifts are free ipso facto, plus used in this manner is both ungrammatical and unnecessary." Contact Bob at

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
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Title Annotation:wood on words
Author:Wood, Alden
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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