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In Print Is Forever
Oh, the things we see in print these days …
From Time magazine: “General David Petraeus asked a famous
question: ‘Tell me how this ends?’ ” Did you catch it?
Here’s a clue: tell me how that’s a question. If Petraeus had
asked a question, it would have been something like, “Tell me, how
does this end?” But in Time’s sentence, “tell
me” is a request, so delete the question mark.
A school district official was quoted as saying, “We have been
appraised of all the relevant issues …” The word appraise means “decide the value of.” The gentleman
clearly meant “we have been apprised,” i.e., informed.
A bungled sentence from a representative of educated America is not the
message our embattled schools want to be sending.
But that’s minor compared to this mindlessness from “a leading
Latin American scholar at the Center for Strategic and International
Studies” who reportedly said, “My personal view is, it’s
us who is more responsible than Mexico.” The more forgivable of this
man’s two howlers is “it’s us.” OK, he was trying
to sound like a regular guy. But “it’s us who is”? That
would even make a regular guy nervous. And this is an esteemed expert
speaking on the record. We don’t want to have a beer with him; we
want him to speak to us in a manner befitting his authority. He should have
said “it’s we who are more
A while back, an e-mail to the Associated Press website asked, “Is
there a rule about the use of ‘a’ versus ‘an’ when
used in front of a word beginning with a vowel?” I still can’t
believe it’s come to this, but then I read things like: “There
could be a independent or special prosecutor” and “has allowed
it to linger as an mitigating factor.” So my sympathies go out to the
e-mailer, who probably has read enough of those illiteracies to doubt his
own linguistic sanity.
Compare that with “plans to use a $850 million loan commitment”
and “LG showed off a 84-inch monitor.” All you have to do is
say those aloud to know it should be “an $850 million loan
commitment,” “an 84-inch monitor.” I’m
guessing these writers outsmarted themselves: The rule is that an
goes before a vowel, and there’s technically no vowel in
“$850” or “84.” But this wrongly assumes that when
we see words on the page we don’t simultaneously hear them in our
The moral of the story: Know the rules, but use your head. (As we note in
Confusing Words and Homonyms
section, “Use an when the first letter of the word following
has the sound of a vowel.”)
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