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Don’t Put It in Writing
Today we’ll discuss a word and a phrase, either of which would sound fine in a casual exchange but could attract unwanted attention if used in formal
Although few people would notice anything amiss in a sentence like I wish I could get ahold of a good grammar book, many editors would change get ahold of to either get hold of or get a hold of.
Dictionaries differ on ahold. Back in 1966, Random House’s Dictionary of the English Language listed ahold, but called it
“informal”—and the American College Dictionary (1968), also from Random House, refused to list the word at all. (Maybe Random
House wanted to discourage college kids from using it.)
Nor can ahold be found in the American Heritage dictionary’s 1980 edition. However, American Heritage’s 2004 and 2011 editions include
the word without comment.
Our most recent dictionary, Webster’s New World (2014), lists ahold but, like Random House half a century ago, labels the word
Most of the language websites we checked did not recommend ahold. Here are some examples: “Ahold does not exist as a word in
standard English.” “Ahold poses no problem in informal speech and writing, but it might be considered out of place in more formal
contexts.” “In standard English you just ‘get hold’ of something or somebody.”
We found only one website that endorsed this word with any enthusiasm: “Don’t hold back on your use of ahold … a word recognized by
Merriam-Webster, Garner’s Modern American Usage and most other writing authorities.”
We confirmed that the Merriam-Webster online dictionary does recognize ahold, but the statement about “most other writing authorities”
conflicted with our own findings. And as for Bryan A. Garner’s Dictionary of Modern American Usage, all it says about ahold is that
“it verges on being standard”—hardly a resounding endorsement.
In close proximity
does not mean “distance”; it means “nearness,” so close proximity means “close nearness.” Besides its
redundancy, in close proximity takes three times as many words and three times as many syllables as are needed to express an elementary concept: nearby.
You see in close proximity all the time, and it always manages to sound ungainly and comically self-important. Here’s a small
sampling of what we found on the Internet: “The hotel is in close proximity [close] to the corporate, ﬁnancial and fashionable heart
of the city.” “Investigators believe the aircraft went down after coming in close proximity [too close] to another plane.” “The car’s controls are in close proximity [within easy reach].”
Traditional usage guides advise against close proximity. Typical of these is Eric Partridge’s Usage and Abusage: “Say close to or near, according to the context.” John B. Bremner’s Words on Words finds the phrase too obviously silly
to get worked up about. Bremner’s droll entry under close proximity: “The best kind.”
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
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The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.