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The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

More Mangled Language and Pompous Usages to Avoid

This column is mostly concerned about the written word, but even so, pronunciation will inevitably enter the picture from time to time.

The expressions chomping at the bit and stomping ground are both corruptions of the original champing and stamping. People find this incredible. But, for instance, consult the 1961 cult-favorite western film One-Eyed Jacks, and you’ll hear Marlon Brando clearly say, “I know all his old stampin’ grounds.” My 1968 Random House dictionary and my 1980 American Heritage dictionary (the one with its own usage panel) don’t even list stomping ground, only stamping. Nor do they list chomping at the bit, only champing.

My 1999 Webster’s lists both, but Webster’s is more permissive by design; it’s what’s called a descriptive dictionary, as opposed to prescriptive ones like American Heritage, which presume, unlike Webster’s, to act as guardians of proper English.

Here are some more words and phrases that make word nerds wince:

Kudos  To this great man, kudos are overdue. That’s not a sentence that would raise many eyebrows, but kudos is not the plural of kudo. There’s no such thing as a kudo. Kudos is a Greek word (pronounced KYOO-doss or KOO-doss) meaning praise or glory, and you’d no more say kudos are due than you’d say glory are due. You must change are to is: kudos is overdue. Of course, if you ever said that, everybody’d think you’re strange—everybody but that word nerd skulking in the corner.

Snuck  A lot of people these days think this is the legitimate past tense of sneak. A lot of people are wrong. The past tense of sneak is sneaked. Even my Webster’s has a problem with snuck, calling it “informal.”

Flaunt, flout  He was a rebel who flaunted the rules. Make that flouted. To flaunt is to display ostentatiously; to flout is to ignore, disregard. Don’t flaunt your ignorance by flouting the correct usage of flout.

Close proximity  Also commonly used by a lot of smart folks who should know better. There is a creek in close proximity to the cabin. This is ill-advised for a number of reasons. First, proximity already means “closeness,” so the phrase is redundant: “close closeness.” And this is just an affected way of disdaining nice clear words like near, nearby, et al. What’s wrong with “There’s a creek near the cabin”? Word nerds believe that the fewer words and syllables it takes to get your point across, the better a writer you’ll be.

More importantly, most importantly  When grammatical cluelessness combines with a desire to sound glib, we get maddening phrases like these two. I’ve been a pedantic prig, er, copy editor, a long time and I’ve never seen a valid use of more or most importantly. Just drop the -ly and make my day. More important, you’ll be using good English. Most important, you won’t sound like some pseudo-scholarly fusspot.

This grammar tip is by our late copy editor and word nerd Tom Stern.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

13 responses to “More Mangled Language and Pompous Usages to Avoid”

  1. Jim Frane says:

    Searching a bit around the Internet reveals that the issue of “more important” vs. “more importantly” and “most important” vs. “most important” is controversial among respected authorities. As pointed out in (which is well worth reading in its entirety), one way to test one’s own opinion on the matter is to alter your sentence by omitting “more” or “most.” The omission of the adverb “more” (or “most”) should not change the part of speech of the word it modifies. Who would say “Important, you’ll be using good English?” It seems clear that the introductory words “importantly,” “more importantly,” and “most importantly” are sentence adverbs and as such require the “ly.”

  2. Tina says:

    Just wanted to say I loved this. I love all of them! I’m a moderate fussbudget, and I always learn new things here. Thanks!

  3. Kathy Coletta says:

    A couple of years ago, I joined a Scrabble club, thinking it might be fun. I challenged a guy who submitted “kudo,” They thought I was crazy because it is in the Scrabble dictionary. I almost died. How could that possibly be in the Scrabble dictionary? I went home and never went back. What a disappointment!

  4. Brenda Russell says:

    Always appreciate your emails. I’m still, however, waiting to read your position on the differences – if any, going by the current crop of published authors – between “rein” and “reign” as in the sentence “He reigned in his desire to smack the idiot in the face,” which, in my humble opinion, should be replaced by “She reined in her desire to smack the idiot in the face!” Thank you so much!

  5. John Koning says:

    Thanks for the entertaining and informative article. It made me laugh. More importantly … oops … oh, never mind. You get the message.

  6. Anne Palmer says:

    The use of “snuck” and “drug” as common but incorrect past tenses puzzled me for a long time, since our tendency is to change irregular verbs to regular ones, not the other way around. Then I realized that “sneaked” and “dragged” are harder to say, and the difference in effort may have led to the strange, invented past tenses. The same “effort entropy” may be at work in a pronunciation change I’ve noticed where I teach: many students pronounce “thank you” disconcertingly like “think you,” maybe because opening their mouths for the short “a” sound takes more effort than for the short “i.”

    Thank you for helping keep us mindful of what we do!

  7. Leon Broski says:

    Please comment on the overused expression, “at the end of the day.”

  8. Pauline Cottam says:

    When you wrote about snuck it reminded me of drug being used as the legitimate past tense for drag. I’ve always used dragged as the past tense, am I correct? I would love to hear your comments on this.

  9. Gene Palumbo says:

    I need help in clarifying an office debate.
    We are composing a vacate form and in some occasions there is a single occupant vacating, and in other instances there is more than one individual.
    So which is the correct version?

    Tenant(s) Name(s)______________
    Tenant(‘s) Name(s)______________
    Tenants(s’) Names(s)______________

    I think it is the first one.

    • None of your versions are correct. We suggest “Name(s) of Tenant(s)” as a solution. Please see our many blog posts on apostrophes as well as our apostrophe rules for more information.

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