Slips of Speech
A helpful book for everyone who aspires to correct the everyday errors of speaking and writing. _______
JOHN H. BECHTEL
Author of "Practical Synonyms," "Pronunciation," etc.
The Penn Publishing Company
COPYRIGHT 1895 BY THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY ___
CHAP. PAGE INTRODUCTION, . . . . . . . . . . . 3 I. TASTE, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 II. CHOICE OF WORDS, . . . . . . . . . . 15 III. CONTRACTIONS, . . . . . . . . . . . 118 IV. POSSESSIVE CASE, . . . . . . . . . . 124 V. PRONOUNS, . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129 VI. NUMBER, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142 VII. ADVERBS, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150 VIII. CONJUNCTIONS, . . . . . . . . . . . 156 IX. CORRELATIVES, . . . . . . . . . . . 162 X. THE INFINITIVE, . . . . . . . . . . 166 XI. PARTICIPLES, . . . . . . . . . . . . 169 XII. PREPOSITIONS, . . . . . . . . . . . 174 XIII. THE ARTICLE, . . . . . . . . . . . . 181 XIV. REDUNDANCY, . . . . . . . . . . . . 185 XV. TWO NEGATIVES, . . . . . . . . . . . 194 XVI. ACCORDANCE OF VERB WITH SUBJECT, . . 198
Homer, in all probability, knew no rules of rhetoric, and was not tortured with the consideration of grammatical construction, and yet his verse will endure through time. If everybody possessed the genius of Homer, rules and cautions in writing would be unnecessary.
To-day all men speak, and most men write, but it is observed that those who most closely follow Homer's method of writing without rules are most unlike Homer in the results. The ancient bard was a law unto himself; we need rules for our guidance.
Rules of writing are the outgrowth of the study of the characteristics and qualities of style which distinguish the best writers from those of inferior skill and ability. Grammarians and rhetoricians, according to their several lines of investigation, set forth the laws and principles governing speech, and formulate rules whereby we may follow the true, and avoid the false.
Grammar and rhetoric, as too often presented in the schools, are such uninviting studies that when
school-days are ended, the books are laid aside, and are rarely consulted afterward. The custom of formally burning the text-books after the final examinations— a custom that prevails in some institutions— is but an emphatic method of showing how the students regard the subjects treated in the books.
If all the rules and principles had been thoroughly mastered, the huge bonfire of text-books in grammar and rhetoric might be regarded a fitting celebration of the students' victory over the difficulties of "English undefiled." But too often these rules are merely memorized by the student for the purpose of recitation, and are not engrafted upon his everyday habit of speech. They are, therefore, soon forgotten, and the principles involved are subject to daily violation.
Hence arises the need of books like SLIPS OF SPEECH, in which the common faults of speakers and writers are pointed out, and the correct use of words shown. Brief and informal in treatment, they will be read and consulted when the more voluminous text-books will be left untouched.
The copious index appended to this volume will afford a ready reference to the many subjects discussed, and will contribute greatly to the convenience and permanent value of the book.
SLIPS OF SPEECH
"We should be as careful of our words as of our actions."— CICERO.
Taste is a universal gift. It has been found in some degree in all nations, races, and ages. It is shown by the savage in his love of personal decoration; by the civilized man in his love of art.
But while it is thus universal, it is as different among men as their faces, complexions, characters, or languages. Even among people of the same nation, it is as different as the degrees of society. The same individual at different periods of life, shows this variableness of taste.
These diversities of taste imply a susceptibility to improvement. Good taste in writing forms no exception to the rule. While it seems to require some basis in nature, no degree of inborn aptitude will compensate for the lack of careful training.
To give his natural taste firmness and fineness a writer needs to read the best literature, not merely so
as to know it, but so as to feel the beauty, the fitness, the charm, the strength, the delicacy of a well-chosen word.
The study of the proper arrangement and the most effective expression of our thoughts prompts us to think more accurately. So close is the connection between the thought and its expression that looseness of style in speaking and writing may nearly always be traced to indistinctness and feebleness in the grasp of the subject. No degree of polish in expression will compensate for inadequacy of knowledge. But with the fullest information upon any subject, there is still room for the highest exercise of judgment and good sense in the proper choice and arrangement of the thoughts, and of the words with which to express them.
The concurrent testimony of those best qualified to render a decision, has determined what authors reflect the finest literary taste, and these writers should be carefully studied by all who aspire to elegance, accuracy, and strength in literary expression.
Never hesitate to call a spade a spade. One of the most frequent violations of good taste consists in the effort to dress a common subject in high-sounding language. The ass in the fable showed his stupidity
when he put on the lion's skin and expected the other animals to declare him to be the king of beasts. The distinction of a subject lies in its own inherent character, and no pompous parade of words will serve to exalt a commonplace theme.
In the expression of homely ideas and the discussion of affairs of every-day life, avoid such poetic forms as o'er for over, ne'er for never, 'mid for amid, e'en for even, 'gan for began, 'twixt for betwixt, 'neath for beneath, list for listen, oft for often, morn for morning, eve for evening, e'er for ever, ere for before, 'tis for it is, 'twas for it was.
In all prose composition, avoid such poetic forms as swain, wight, mead, brake, dingle, dell, zephyr.
The unrestrained use of foreign words, whether from the ancient or from the modern languages, savors of pedantry and affectation. The ripest scholars, in speaking and writing English, make least use of foreign words or phrases. Persons who indulge in their use incur the risk of being charged with a desire to exhibit their linguistic attainments.
On the other hand, occasions arise when the use of words from a foreign tongue by one who is thoroughly
familiar with them, will add both grace and exactness to his style.
Rarely use a foreign term when your meaning can be as well expressed in English. Instead of blase, use surfeited, or wearied; for cortege use procession for couleur de rose, rose-color; for dejeuner, breakfast; for employe, employee; for en route, on the way; for entre nous, between ourselves; for fait accompli, an accomplished fact; for in toto, wholly, entirely; for penchant, inclination; for raison d'etre, reason for existence; for recherche, choice, refined; for role, part; for soiree dansante, an evening dancing party; for sub rosa, secretly, etc.
The following incident from the Detroit Free Press is in point:
The gentleman from the West pulled his chair up to the hotel table, tucked his napkin under his chin, picked up the bill-of-fare and began to study it intently. Everything was in restaurant French, and he didn't like it.
"Here, waiter," he said, sternly, "there's nothing on this I want."
"Ain't there nothin' else you would like for dinner, sir?" inquired the waiter, politely.
"Have you got any sine qua non?"
The waiter gasped.
"No, sir," he replied.
"Got any bon mots?"
"N— no, sir."
"Got any semper idem?"
"No, sir, we hain't."
"Got any jeu d'esprits?"
"No, sir; not a one."
"Got any tempus fugit?"
"I reckon not, sir."
"Got any soiree dansante?"
The waiter was edging off.
"Got any sine die?"
"We hain't, sir."
"Got any e pluribus unum?"
The waiter's face showed some sign of intelligence.
"Seems like I heard ob dat, sir," and he rushed out to the kitchen, only to return empty-handed.
"We ain't got none, sir," he said, in a tone of disappointment.
"Got any mal de mer?"
"N— no, sir."
The waiter was going to pieces fast.
The gentleman from the West, was as serene as a May morning.
"Got any vice versa?" he inquired again.
The waiter could only shake his head.
"No? Well, maybe you've got some bacon and cabbage, and a corn dodger?"
"'Deed we have, sir," exclaimed the waiter, in a tone of the utmost relief, and he fairly flew out to the kitchen.
Words and phrases which may once have been striking and effective, or witty and felicitous, but which have become worn out by oft-repeated use, should be avoided. The following hackneyed phrases will serve to illustrate: "The staff of life," "gave up the ship," "counterfeit presentment," "the hymeneal altar," "bold as a lion," "throw cold water upon," "the rose upon the cheek," "lords of creation," "the weaker sex," "the better half," "the rising generation," "tripping the light fantastic toe," "the cup that cheers but does not inebriate," "in the arms of Morpheus," "the debt of nature," "the bourne whence no traveler returns," "to shuffle off this mortal coil," "the devouring element," "a brow of alabaster."
Avoid pet words, whether individual, provincial, or national in their use. Few persons are entirely free from the overuse of certain words. Young people largely employ such words as delightful, delicious,
exquisite, and other expressive adjectives, which constitute a kind of society slang.
Words and phrases are often taken up by writers and speakers, repeated, and again taken up by others, and thus their use enlarges in ever-widening circles until the expressions become threadbare. Drop them before they have reached that state. Function, environment, trend, the masses, to be in touch with, to voice the sentiments of— these are enough to illustrate the kind of words referred to.
Very Vulgar Vulgarisms
No one who has any regard for purity of diction and the proprieties of cultivated society will be guilty of the use of such expressions as yaller for yellow, feller for fellow, kittle for kettle, kiver for cover, ingons for onions, cowcumbers for cucumbers, sparrowgrass for asparagus, yarbs for herbs, taters for potatoes, tomats for tomatoes, bile for boil, hain't for ain't or isn't, het for heated, kned for kneaded, sot for sat or set, teeny for tiny, fooling you for deceiving you, them for those, shut up for be quiet, or be still, or cease speaking, went back on me for deceived me or took advantage of me, a power of people for a great many
people, a power of money for great wealth, a heap of houses for many houses, lots of books for many books, lots of corn for much corn or large quantities of corn, gents for gentlemen, and many others of a similar character.
Choice of Words
Our American writers evince much variety in their graces of diction, but in the accurate choice of words James Russell Lowell and William Cullen Bryant stand out conspicuous above the rest. So careful and persistent was the latter, that during the time that he was editor of The Evening Post, of New York City, he required the various writers upon that paper to avoid the use of a long list of words and expressions which he had prepared for them, and which were commonly employed by other papers. This list was not only used, but enlarged by his successors.
Strive to cultivate the habit of observing words; trace their delicate shades of meaning as employed by the most polished writers; note their suggestiveness; mark the accuracy with which they are chosen. In this way your mind will be kept on the alert to discover the beauties as well as the blemishes of all the thought pictures that are presented, and your vocabulary will be greatly enlarged and enriched.
BRYANT'S LIST OF OBJECTIONABLE EXPRESSIONS
Above, and over, use more than. Artiste, use artist. Aspirant. Authoress Beat, use defeat. Bagging, use capturing. Balance, use remainder. Banquet, use dinner or supper. Bogus. Casket, use coffin. Claimed, use asserted. Collided. Commence, use begin. Compete. Cortege, use procession. Cotemporary, use contemporary. Couple, use two. Darkey, use negro. Day before yesterday, use the day before yesterday. Debut. Decease, as a verb. Democracy, applied to a political party. Develop, use expose. Devouring element, use fire. Donate. Employe. Enacted, use acted. Endorse, use approve. En route. Esq. Graduate, use is graduated. Gents, use gentlemen. Hon. House, use House of Representatives. Humbug. Inaugurate, use begin. In our midst. Item, use particle, extract, or paragraph. Is being done, and all similar passive forms. Jeopardize. Jubilant, use rejoicing.
Juvenile, use boy. Lady, use wife. Last, use latest. Lengthy, use long. Leniency, use lenity. Loafer. Loan, or loaned, use lend or lent. Located. Majority, use most. Mrs. President. Mrs. Governor. Mrs. General. Mutual, use common. Official, use officer. Ovation. On yesterday. Over his signature. Pants, use pantaloons. Parties, use persons. Partially, use partly. Past two weeks, use last two weeks. Poetess. Portion, use part. Posted, use informed. Progress, use advance. Quite, when prefixed to good, large, etc. Raid, use attack. Realized, use obtained. Reliable, use trustworthy. Rendition, use performance. Repudiate, use reject or disown. Retire, as an active verb.v Rev., use the Rev. Role, use part. Roughs. Rowdies. Secesh. Sensation, use noteworthy event. Standpoint, use point of view. Start, in the sense of setting out. State, use say. Taboo. Talent, use talents or ability. Talented. Tapis. The deceased. War, use dispute or disagreement.
Avoid bombastic language. Work for plain expressions rather than for the unusual. Use the simplest words that the subject will bear.
The following clipping, giving an account of the commencement exercises of a noted female college, strikingly illustrates what to avoid:
"Like some beacon-light upon a rock-bound coast against which the surges of the ocean unceasingly roll, and casting its beams far across the waters warning the mariner from the danger near, the college, like a Gibraltar, stands upon the high plains of learning, shedding its rays of knowledge, from the murmurings of the Atlantic to the whirlwinds of the Pacific, guiding womankind from the dark valley of ignorance, and wooing her with wisdom's lore, leads creation's fairest, purest, best into flowery dells where she can pluck the richest food of knowledge, and crowns her brow with a coronet of gems whose brilliancy can never grow dim: for they glisten with the purest thought, that seems as a spark struck from the mind of Deity. There is no need for the daughters of this community to seek colleges of distant climes whereat to be educated, for right here in their own city, God's paradise on earth, is situated a noble college, the bright diadem of that paradise, that has done more for the higher education of woman than any institution in our land."
An author's diction is pure when he uses such words only as belong to the idiom of the language. The only standard of purity is the practice of the best writers and speakers. A violation of purity is called a barbarism.
Unlike the Latin, Greek, or Hebrew, the English is a living language, and, like all living organisms, manifests its life by taking in new material and casting off old waste continually. Science, art, and philosophy give rise to new ideas which, in turn, demand new words for their expression. Of these, some gain a permanent foothold, while others float awhile upon the currents of conversation and newspaper literature and then disappear.
Good usage is the only real authority in the choice of reputable words; and to determine, in every case, what good usage dictates, is not an easy matter. Authors, like words, must be tested by time before their forms of expression may become a law for others. Pope, in his Essay on Criticism, laid down a rule which, for point and brevity, has never been excelled:
"In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold; Alike fantastic, if too new or old; Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside."
Campbell, in his Philosophy of Rhetoric, says that a word to be legitimate must have these three signs of authority: 1. It must be reputable, or that of educated people, as opposed to that of the ignorant or vulgar. 2. It must be national, as opposed to what is either local or technical. 3. It must be present, as opposed to what is obsolete.
Any word that does not have these three qualities may, in general, be styled a barbarism.
Many foreign words, in process of time, become so thoroughly domesticated that their translation, or the use of an awkward equivalent, would be a greater mark of pedantry than the use of the foreign words. The proper use of such terms as fiat, palladium, cabal, quorum, omnibus, antique, artiste, coquette, ennui, physique, regime, tableau, amateur, cannot be censured on the ground of their foreign character.
Some writers affect an antiquated style by the introduction of such words as peradventure, perchance,
anon, behest, quoth, erewhile. The use of such words gives a strange sound to the sentence, and generally indicates that the writer is not thoroughly in earnest. The expression is lowered in tone and is made to sound fantastic.
A word should not be condemned because it is new. If it is really needed it will be welcomed, and soon find a permanent place. Shakespeare, Addison, and Johnson introduced many new words, to which their names afterward gave a sanction. Carlyle, Coleridge, Tennyson, and Browning have introduced or given currency to new words, and made strange ones familiar.
New words are objectionable when they are employed without proper authority. The chief sources of supply of the objectionable kind are the current slang of the street and the sensational newspaper. They are often the result of a desire to say things in such a manner as to reflect smartness upon the speaker, or to present things in a humorous or picturesque way. That they are frequently very effective cannot be gainsaid. Sometimes they are coined in the heat of political or social discussion, and, for a time, express what everybody is talking about; but it is impossible to tell whether they will live beyond
the occasion that produced them. So long as their usage is doubtful it is safer not to employ them.
Slang is somewhat like chicken-pox or measles, very catching, and just as inevitable in its run; and very few of us escape it. It is severest, too, where the sanitary conditions are most favorable to its development. Where there is least thought and culture to counteract its influence slang words crowd out those of a more serious character, until, in time, the young and inexperienced speaker or writer is unable to distinguish between the counterfeit and the genuine.
While most persons condemn slang, there are very few who are entirely free from its use. It varies greatly in its degrees of coarseness or refinement, and adapts itself to all classes and conditions. Many know no other language, and we are unwillingly compelled to admit that while their speech is often ungrammatical and unrhetorical, it is generally clear, concise, and forcible.
Strive to acquire a vocabulary so large and to cultivate a taste so fine that when a slang expression rises to your mind you can use it if you think it best fits the occasion, or substitute something better in its place. Purity of diction is a garden of slow growth even under the most favorable conditions, and the
unrestrained indulgence in slang is like scattering seeds of the vilest plants among the choicest flowers.
"This is an elegant day," "that is an elegant view," "Mary is awfully nice," "Jennie is dreadfully sweet," "Gertrude is delicious," and "Tom is perfectly splendid." The use of such extravagant phrases tends to weaken the significance of the words when legitimately employed.
Commercial terms are employed in the common language of everyday life to such an extent as to constitute a form of commercial slang. The following will serve for illustration; "The balance of the journey" for remainder, "he was well posted." for well informed, "I calculate he will come to-morrow" for believe or think, "I reckon he is your friend" for I suppose.
To materialize, to burglarize, to enthuse, to suicide, to wire, to jump upon, to sit upon, to take in, are a few of the many examples of slang that should be avoided.
A word that is used only in a limited part of the country is called a provincialism. It must be known and recognized for what it is worth, but not obtruded where it does not belong.
Whatever may be said of the faults of speech of the American people, it is doubtful if any other nation, whether it covers a large territory or is limited in area, speaks the language native to the country with the uniformity that we do. Yet, there are peculiarities that mark the expression of most of our people, even among the best informed. The words calculate, reckon, and guess are not the only words that betray the locality of the speaker. Any person who has been five hundred miles from home cannot fail to have observed words that were used differently from the way in which he had been accustomed to use them, and he probably heard terms of expression that seemed strange to him. In like manner, his own expressions sounded strange to those who heard him. That which distinguished his speech from theirs and theirs from his would, in large part, be covered by the word "provincialism."
Not only do we have local and sectional peculiarities of speech, but we may be said to have national mannerisms. Mr. Alexander Melville Bell, the eminent
elocutionist, relates that some years ago when residing in Edinburgh, a stranger called to make some inquiries in regard to professional matters.
"I have called on you, sir, for the purpose of," etc.
"When did you cross the Atlantic?" I asked.
The stranger looked up with surprise amounting almost to consternation.
"How do you know that I have crossed the Atlantic?"
"Your manner of using the little word 'sir' is not heard in England or Scotland."
This gentleman, Mr. Bell says, was one of the most eminent teachers of elocution in America, and his speech was perfectly free from ordinary local coloring, in all but the one little element which had escaped observation.
Much diversity of usage exists and some difference of opinion prevails concerning the proper expression to use when you are addressed, and fail to understand just what has been said. Such interrogative rejoinders as "What?" "How?" "Which?" "Hey?" are plainly objectionable. "Sir?" and "Madam!" once common, are no longer tolerated in society. The English expression "Beg pardon" has found favor, but it is not wholly acceptable. "Excuse me"
is suggested by a writer on the subject. It has no more syllables than "Beg pardon," and is nearly equivalent in signification, but it is also subject to the objection that it is often used to imply a difference of opinion, as when a person makes a statement to which you take exception, you begin your reply with the expression, "Excuse me."
Whatever is adopted will doubtless be a convenient contraction, like "Beg pardon," which is a short way of saying, "I beg your pardon for failing to understand what you said;" or "Excuse me," which is a condensation of "Excuse me for not fully grasping your meaning."
WORDS IMPROPERLY USED
A word of caution in the use of the smaller dictionaries is necessary. The most elaborate definition often fails to give an adequate idea of the signification of a term unless it is accompanied with one or more quotations illustrating its use. The small dictionaries give only the briefest definitions, without illustration, and therefore should be interpreted with caution.
Some years ago a young man of moderate attainments was very desirous of enlarging his vocabulary
and of using words beyond the ordinary vernacular of his neighborhood. To this end, he made a small vest-pocket lexicon his constant companion.
Having consulted it in the course of a conversation with a friend, he remarked, as he was about to return it to his pocket, "What a commodious book this is." His friend suggested that he again consult the "commodious" volume. With a look of the utmost confidence he turned to the word, and exclaimed: "There! I knew I was right. Commodious means convenient, and that is just what this little book is."
It was useless to explain that smallness sometimes renders a thing inconvenient, and this young man, doubtless, still felicitates himself upon his intimate acquaintance with that commodious pocket dictionary.
A fond mother was told by the principal of a boarding-school that her daughter would not be graduated, as she lacked capacity. "Get her a capacity. Her father don't stand on the matter of expense. Get her anything she wants. He'll foot the bill." But for once the indulgent mother was obliged to learn that there are some things money will not purchase. The father had the financial ability, but the daughter lacked the necessary intellectual capacity.
But we may have literary as well as financial ability. Ability implies the power of doing; capacity the faculty of receiving.
"This work is about done." Use "almost done."
These words cannot be used interchangeably. "He wrote signifying his acceptance of the office." "According to the common acceptation of this term, he is a knave."
"He gained access to the fort." "The only accession, which the Roman empire received was the province of Britain."
Accident is sometimes used incorrectly for injury. as "His accident was very painful."
Some men seek to be great by copying great men's faults. Dickens may say "Our Mutual Friend," but Dickens's strong point was not grammar. If you have a friend in common with Smith, in speaking of him to Smith, say our common friend. The word mutual should always convey a sense of reciprocity, as "Happy in our mutual help and mutual love."
This word is generally used for emphasis, as "I myself will do it," "I wrote it myself." It should not be used for the unemphatic pronouns I and me, as in "James and myself are going to town," "He gave the books to James and myself." It is properly used with a reflexive verb without emphasis, as "I will defend myself."
Negligence is the habit, neglect the act, of leaving things undone. The adjectives negligent and neglectful should, in like manner, be discriminated.
The word never is sometimes colloquially used for not, as "I never remember to have seen Lincoln." Say "I do not remember," etc. Never should not be used in reference to events that can take place but once, as "Warren never died at Lexington."
We may love our parents, our children, our country, the truth; and we may like roast turkey and cranberry sauce. "I love cherries," "I adore strawberries," are school-girl expressions that should be avoided. Love is an emotion of the heart, and not of the palate.
These words are often used synonymously. A picture purchased for ten thousand dollars may be cheap; another, for which ten dollars was paid, although low-priced, may be dear.
The frequent use of mad in the sense of angry should be avoided. A person who is insane is mad. A dog that has hydrophobia is mad. Figuratively we say mad, with rage, mad with terror, mad with pain; but to be vexed, or angry, or out of patience, does not justify the use of so strong a term as mad.
Most, Almost, Very
Sometimes incorrectly used for almost, as "He writes to me most every week."
It is often loosely used in the sense of very, as "This is a most interesting book." Aim to use most only as the superlative of much, or many. Do not use the indefinite article before it, as "This is a most beautiful picture." We may say "This is the most beautiful picture," for here comparison is implied.
"Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me." "We traveled a part of the distance on foot." Portion is applied to that which is set aside for a special
purpose, often as the share or allotment of an individual, as the wife's portion, the portion of the oldest son, etc. Part is a more general term.
Bryant would not have said, "I will send you a postal by to-morrow's mail." Postal card or post card would be better.
These words are sometimes confounded. Practicable means "that may be done or accomplished," and implies that the means or resources are available; as, a practicable road, a practicable aim. Practical means "capable of being turned to use or account;" as, "The practical man begins by doing; the theorist often ends by thinking."
This word is sometimes incorrectly used in the sense of form or base; as, "He predicated his statement on the information he had just received." Neither should it be used in the sense of predict; as, "The sky is overcast, and I predicate a storm tomorrow."
"I prefer to walk than to ride." Say "I prefer walking to riding;" or, "I would rather walk than
ride." "To skate is preferable than to coast." Say "Skating is preferable to coasting."
Amount applies to what is thought of in the mass or bulk, as money, wheat, coal. Number is used when we think of the individuals composing the mass, as men, books, horses, vessels.
An answer implies a question. We may reply to a remark or assertion. A reply is more formal than an answer.
Antagonize, Alienate, Oppose
The word antagonize should not be used in the sense of alienate; as, "Your proposition will antagonize many supporters of the measure." "The Senate opposed the bill which passed the House" is better than "antagonized the bill."
"The arrival of the President was hourly anticipated" is pompous. Use expected.
Any, At all
"He was so far from the speaker's platform that he could not hear any." Better "that he could not hear," or "hear at all," or "hear what was said."
These words are often used interchangeably. That which is apparent may be what it appears to be, or it may be very different; that which is evident admits of no doubt. The same is true of apparently and evidently.
"He is not the best person for the position, but his many kindnesses to me prejudice me in his favor." We may be prejudiced against a person or thing, but cannot be prejudiced in favor. Use predispose.
This word is often employed when think, believe, or daresay would be better.
"I do not pretend to be an orator." Pretend means to feign, to sham; as, "He pretends to be asleep," and should not be used when claim or profess would better suit the purpose.
The correct form of the word is preventive, not preventative.
The adjective previous is often incorrectly used for the adverb previously; as, "Previous to his imprisonment he made a confession of his crime."
"I promise you we had a good time yesterday." Promise relates to the future, hence "I assure you," etc., would be better.
To propose is to set before the mind for consideration; to purpose is to intend. "I propose sending my son to college" should be "I purpose," etc. "I propose that you go to college, my son." "Thank you, father, I accept the proposal."
The word sparrowgrass, which is a corruption of the word asparagus, illustrates how readily the uneducated mind associates an unusual term with another that is familiar, and as the mental impression is received through the ear, and lacks that definiteness which the printed form would give, the new idea, when repeated, often assumes a picturesque, if not a ludicrous, form. Many of Mrs. Partington's quaint sayings furnish further illustration.
The following incident, from a Western paper, shows the successive stages in the farmer's mental operations from the familiar terms skin, hide, oxhide, up to the unfamiliar chemical term oxide, through which he was obliged to pass before he succeeded in making known his wants:
The man was in a brown study when he went into the drug store.
"What can we do for you?" inquired the clerk.
"I want black— something of something," he said; "have you got any?"
"Probably we have," replied the clerk, "but you'll have to be more definite than that to get it."
The farmer thought for a moment.
"Got any black sheepskin of something?" he asked.
"No; we don't keep sheepskins. We have chamois-skins, though."
"That ain't it, I know," said the customer. "Got any other kind of skins?"
"Skins— skins— skins!" slowly repeated the man, struggling with his slippery memory. "Calfskin seems to be something like it. Got any black calfskins of anything?"
"No, not one," and the clerk laughed.
The customer grew red in the face.
"Confound it!" he said, "if it ain't a skin, what in thunder is it?"
"Possibly it's a hide?" suggested the clerk.
"That's it! That's it!" exclaimed the man.
"Have you got any black hides of something or anything?"
The clerk shook his head sadly as the man tramped up and down the store.
"Got any black cowhide of anything?" he asked, after a moment's thought.
The clerk's face showed a gleam of intelligence, and then broke into a smile.
"Possibly it's black oxide of manganese you want?" he said, quietly.
"Of course, that's it!" he exclaimed, as he threw his arms around the clerk's neck. "I knowed blamed well there was a skin or hide or something somewhere about the thing," and he calmed down quietly and waited for what he wanted.
"They accorded him due praise." "They gave him the desired information."
"The best portion of a good man's life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love." "Suit the action to the word." Action suggests the operation; act, the accomplished result.
These words were once interchangeable, but are now distinct. Adhesion relates to physical bodies; adherence to mental states.
"What course will you take?" is better than "What course will you adopt?"
These words are sometimes confounded. "The climate affected their health." "They sailed away without effecting their purpose."
To aggravate means to intensify, to make worse; to exasperate means to provoke, to irritate. "To aggravate the horrors of the scene." "His remarks exasperated me." "His conduct aggravates me" should be "His conduct annoys (or displeases, or irritates, or exasperates) me."
These words differ chiefly in degree. The latter is the stronger word.
A proposition implies consideration or discussion; a proposal contemplates acceptance or rejection. "Your proposition to build our new warehouse has received favorable consideration, and we are ready to receive your proposals."
"You may go to skate, providing you first finish your task." Incorrect. You should say provided.
Proven is sometimes incorrectly used for proved. "The evidence was complete and his guilt was fully proved." Not proven is a legal term used in England to denote that the guilt of the accused is not made out, though not disproved.
Quantity refers to the how much; number to the how many. "He purchased a large quantity of wheat, corn, apples, lime, and sand, and a number of houses, stores, chairs, and books." It is, therefore, incorrect to say, "There was a large quantity of bicycles in the yard," "He sold a large quantity of books at auction."
Quite a few
In some parts of the country this expression is in common use in the sense of many, a large number, etc. "How many people were at church to-day?" "Quite a few," meaning a considerable number.
Some persons always commence, but never begin. The tendency toward pomp and parade in speech prompts many persons to avoid the use of our strong, rugged Anglo-Saxon words, and to substitute their high-sounding Latin equivalents, until, in time, the preferable native forms come to be regarded as
commonplace and objectionable. American usage is more faulty than English in this regard. Use begin and beginning more, and commence and, commencement less.
There is a distinction in the use of these words that is not always observed. Complete signifies nothing lacking, every element and part being supplied. That which is finished has had all done to it that was intended. A vessel may be finished and yet be incomplete.
The more pretentious word conclusion is often used where the simple Anglo-Saxon word end would be preferable.
"He was aware of the enemy's designs." "Conscious of his fate, he boldly approached the furious beast." Conscious relates to what is within our own mind; aware to what is without.
Continuous implies uninterrupted, unbroken. Continual relates to acts that are frequently repeated. "The continuous ride is often finished in five hours, but owing to continual delays we were eight hours on the way."
The Irishman who brandished his club and, exclaimed that he was open to conviction, but he would like to see the man that could convince him, used a form of argument that was most convincing, but failed in his discrimination of language. Convict refers to the outer condition, and generally applies to something wrong; convince, which may be used of either right or wrong, refers to the judgment.
Habit is a tendency which leads us to do easily; custom grows out of the habitual doing or frequent repetition of the same act. Custom refers to the usages of society, or of the individual; habit refers more frequently to the individual acts. "Ill habits gather by unseen degrees."
"Man yields to custom as he bows to fate, In all things ruled— mind, body, and estate."
These words are often used interchangeably, but should be discriminated. Need implies the lack; want also implies the lack, but couples with it the wish to supply the lack. "Some men need help, but will not ask for it; others want help (that is, they need help, or think they do, and ask for it) and get it, too."
"He is way down in Florida," is incorrect. "He is away down in Florida" is better grammar. "He is in Florida" is still better. Down indicates the direction, and away magnifies the distance. As most persons know the direction, and as modern railway travel shortens long distances, the abbreviated sentence is sufficiently full.
"He is a long ways from home" is a very common, but faulty expression. Say "Uncle Charles is now a long way on his journey." "The boat is a good way off the shore."
"The whole of the scholars went to the fair to-day." "All of the school went to the fair to-day." The sentences will be improved by transposing whole and all. "All of the scholars went to the fair to-day," not half of them. "The whole school went to the fair to-day," not a part of it. All refers to the individual scholars; whole to the school as a unit.
"He cannot miss the way without he forgets my instructions." "I will not dig the potatoes without Tom comes to help." Use unless instead of without.
"He dislikes arithmetic worse than grammar." Use more instead of worse.
"It is rarely that you hear of a prodigal youth growing into an economical man." Rarely should be rare to form the adjective attribute of the verb.
Real is often incorrectly used as an adverb, especially by schoolgirls; as, "I think he is real mean." The grammar will be improved by substituting really for real, but the expression, as a whole, being applied to all kinds and degrees of offenses, has become meaningless.
Real is often carelessly used in the sense of very; as real pretty, real bright, real kind.
A recipe is a formula for making some mixture or preparation of materials; a receipt is an acknowledgment of that which has been received.
Region is a broader and more comprehensive term, and should not be applied to the narrow limits of a neighborhood.
The word remit is often used when send would be better. Remit means to send back, to forgive, to relax. In its commercial sense it means to transmit or send money in payment of a demand; as, "He remitted the amount by mail."
This pretentious word is often used when house or home would be in better taste.
"The walls of many public buildings are defaced by persons who desire that their names shall remain when they are gone." "They disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast." Disfigure applies more generally to persons; deface, to things.
The word demean is often incorrectly used in the sense of degrade, lower. It should be used in the sense of behave, conduct, deport, and not in the sense of degrade.
For many years the word depot was largely employed in the sense of a railway station. Its primary meaning is a warehouse or storehouse or military station. As applied to a stopping place for railroad trains the
English word station is greatly to be preferred to the French word depot, and is rapidly coming into general use in this country.
"Flowers of every description were found in his garden." In the above sense the word kind or variety would be more appropriate.
Bring, Fetch, Carry
Bring implies motion from the object toward the person who issues the command or makes the request. Fetch implies two motions, first, toward the object; second, toward the person who wishes it. The gardener, who is in the garden, calls to his servant, who is at the barn, "John, bring me the rake. You will find it in the barn." And if John is with him in the garden, he would say, "John, fetch me the rake from the barn."
The use of fetch is more common among English writers than with us. In fact, many speakers and writers in America rarely use the word.
Carry is a more general term, and means to convey, without thought of the direction.
These words are often confounded. "Character," says Abbott, "is what a person is; reputation is what he is supposed to be. Character is in himself,
reputation is in the minds of others. Character is injured by temptations and by wrong-doing; reputation by slanders and libels. Character endures throughout defamation in every form, but perishes where there is a voluntary transgression; reputation may last through numerous transgressions, but be destroyed by a single, and even an unfounded, accusation or aspersion."
Although these words are often used interchangeably even by good writers, yet a finer taste and a keener power of discrimination is shown in the use of farther when referring to literal distance, and of further in reference to quantity or degree; as, "Each day's journey removes them farther from home," "He concluded his speech by remarking that he had nothing further to say." Farther is the comparative of far; further is the comparative of forth.
Speakers and writers often fail to discriminate in the use of these words. A defect implies a deficiency, a lack, a falling short, while a fault signifies that there is something wrong.
"Men still had faults, and men will have them still, He that hath none, and lives as angels do Must be an angel."
"It is in general more profitable to reckon up our defects than to boast of our attainments."
These words and their comparatives, fewer, less, are often confounded. Few relates to number, or to what may be counted; little refers to quantity, or to what may be measured. A man may have few books and little money; he may have fewer friends and less influence than his neighbor. But do not say "The man has less friends than his neighbor."
Each other, One another
While some excellent authorities use these expressions interchangeably, most grammarians and authors employ each other in referring to two persons or things, and one another when more than two are considered; as, "Both contestants speak kindly of each other." "Gentlemen are always polite to one another."
Those who prefer to have wide latitude in speech will be glad to know that Murray, in one of the rules in his grammar, says, "Two negatives in English destroy one another."
Shakespeare says, "It is a good divine that follows his own instructions. I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of
the twenty to follow mine own teaching." This is as true of expression as of morals.
"Palms and beautiful flowers lined the hall on either side," is a common but faulty form of expression. Either refers to one of two things. In the foregoing sentence the thought is that both sides of the hall were lined, hence the word both should have been used. If, however, each side of the hall is thought of separately, then each, would be the proper word to employ.
"Either of the two books will please you." "Any of the three books will prove satisfactory." "Any one of the five men would make a good candidate." "Neither of the two men will serve." "None of the ten men were present." "Not one of all the houses was left standing." These sentences represent the best usage with regard to either, neither, and also of any, none, any one, not one.
Adjectives implying number must agree with the nouns which they qualify. This and that qualify nouns in the singular; these and those belong to nouns in the plural.
"These kind of potatoes grow well in this soil." Use this. "This twenty years have I known him."
Use these. "The beam was two foot above my head," Use feet. "For this, among other reasons, I abandoned the profession." Say "For this reason, among others, I abandoned the profession." "He rides the bicycle daily, and by this means he preserves his health." "The partners were all honest, courteous, and industrious, and by these means acquired wealth." The word means being either singular or plural, the two preceding sentences are both correct.
Some means or another
"By some means or another he always gets the better part of the bargain." This sentence may be corrected by saying "one means or another," or "some means or other."
After other, otherwise, else, or an adjective in the comparative degree, than should be used, and not but or except.
"No other way but this was open to him." Use than.
"History and philosophy cannot otherwise affect the mind but for its enlargement and benefit." Use than.
"Flowers are often nothing else but cultivated weeds." Use than.
"He no sooner entered the bridge but he met an infuriated bull coming toward him." Use than.
"He offered no other objection except the one already mentioned." Use than.
"He read five other books on 'Crime and Its Causes' in addition to those you named." Use than.
With equal propriety we may say, "He offered no objection except the one already mentioned," or "He read five books on 'Crime and Its Causes' in addition to those you named." It is the use of the word other, or otherwise, or else, that makes necessary the correlative term than.
After else and other the preposition besides is sometimes employed.
"Other boys besides these are mischievous."
"Other arts besides music are elevating and inspiring."
"We must have recourse to something else besides punishment."
It will be observed that the use of besides in this section differs from the use of than in the preceding discussion. "Other... than" is exclusive of those mentioned; whereas, "other... besides" includes those mentioned.
"Iron is more useful than all the metals." The faultiness of this sentence becomes apparent when
we remember that iron itself is a metal and is included in the word metals, which forms one side of the comparison. In short, "Iron is more useful than iron together with all the other metals." This statement is absurd. The sentence should, therefore, read, "Iron is more useful than all the other metals."
"The Washington monument is higher than any monument in America." Since it is in America, and as it cannot be higher than itself, the sentence is made correct by adding the word other; as, "The Washington monument is higher than any other monument in America."
"This book, which I have just finished, is superior to any work on the subject that I have yet seen." Say "to any other work."
"Of all other creatures, man is the most highly endowed." Say "of all creatures," etc.
"No general was ever so beloved by his soldiers." Say "No other general," etc.
"Nothing delights him so much as a storm at sea." "Nothing else delights him," etc.
Whether we should say "One ought to know one's own mind," or "One ought to know his own mind," is a question that the critics have earnestly discussed, but have never settled, except as each settles it for
himself. The masculine pronoun is often used with an antecedent whose gender is not known. There can, therefore, be no objection to the use of his on the question of gender. As a matter of euphony, his is preferable to one's. Both have the sanction of good usage.
Although literally signifying no one, the word none may be used with a plural verb, having the force of a collective noun.
"None but the brave deserves the fair."— Dryden. "None knew thee but to love thee, None named thee but to praise."— Halleck. "I look for ghosts; but none will force Their way to me."— Wordsworth. "Of all the girls that e'er were seen, There's none so fine as Nelly."— Swift.
The word all is often incorrectly used for the whole.
"The river rose and spread over all the valley." This should be "over the whole valley."
"The day being stormy, the members of Class A were all the children at school to-day." Correct by saying "were the only children at school to-day."
Perpetually is not synonymous with continually. Perpetually means never-ceasing. That which is done continually may be subject to interruptions.
"Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." Paul had advised many persons to become Christians, some of whom, like Agrippa, were almost persuaded.
These words are sometimes confounded. The wharf is the pier, or landing, upon which the vessel unloads her cargo. The dock is the artificial waterway, or basin, formed by the wharves. "The vessel came into the dock and was made fast to the wharf."
Contemptible is sometimes incorrectly used for contemptuous. A story is told of Richard Parson, an English scholar and critic. A gentleman being in dispute with him, angrily exclaimed, "My opinion of you is most contemptible, sir," upon which Parson quickly retorted, "I never knew an opinion of yours that was not contemptible."
These terms are not synonymous. Toadstools may be healthy, but they would not be regarded as wholesome.
Plants and animals are healthy when the conditions of their growth are favorable. They are wholesome when, as food, they promote the health of those persons who eat them.
In a fix
Many persons instead of saying "He is in trouble," or "He is in an awkward position," or "He is perplexed," or embarrassed, employ the vulgarism, "He is in a fix." Although Shakespeare may say, "This was the most unkindest cut of all," and De Quincey may write, "Poor Aroar cannot live and cannot die— so that he is in an almighty fix," we lesser mortals are forbidden such expressions.
In a general sense fly is applied to winged creatures and flee to persons. "What exile from himself can flee?" "When the swallows homeward fly." The past tense forms are sometimes confused, as, "The inhabitants flew to the fort for safety," "The wild geese have all fled to the South." The principal parts of the verbs are: Present. Past. Perf. part. fly, flew, flown. flee, fled, fled.
The verbs flew and fled in the foregoing sentences should be transposed. Fly implies motion either
from or toward. Flee implies motion from. Fly may be used, in a figurative sense, of persons, to indicate great speed as of wings. "I flew to his rescue." "He flew to my rescue." "Resist the devil and he will flee from you."
The word flown is sometimes used erroneously as the past tense or perfect participle of the verb flow. The parts of this verb are flow, flowed, flowed. "The river has overflowed (not overflown) its banks."
Because a horse is willing is no reason why he should be ridden to death. The verb get and its past-tense form got admit of many meanings, as the following, from an old English publication, fully proves: "I got on horseback within ten minutes after I got your letter. When I got to Canterbury I got a chaise for town; but I got wet through before I got to Canterbury, and I have got such a cold as I shall not be able to get rid of in a hurry. I got to the Treasury about noon, but, first of all, I got shaved and dressed. I soon got into the secret of getting a memorial before the Board, but I could not get an answer then. However, I got intelligence from the messenger that I should most likely get an answer the next morning. As soon as I got back to my inn I got my supper and got to bed. It was not long before I got to sleep.
When I got up in the morning I got myself dressed, and then got my breakfast, that I might get out in time to get an answer to my memorial. As soon as I got it I got into the chaise and got to Canterbury by three, and about teatime I got home. I have got nothing more to say."
Those who are disposed to overwork the words get and got will find it interesting and profitable to read the foregoing exercise, substituting other words for those in italics.
With have the word got is generally superfluous; as, "I have got a cold," "I have got to go to Boston this evening," "Have you got Hires's root-beer on draught?" For "I did not get to meet your cousin," say "I had no opportunity," or "I was prevented," etc.
Another very faulty use of got is heard in such expressions as "He got killed," "They got beaten," "She got cured," etc. Was or were would be more appropriate.
Since to get means to obtain, to procure, to gain, the use of the word is justified in such expressions as "I have got a larger farm than you have, because I have worked harder for it." "I have got a better knowledge of the Pacific coast than he has, because I traveled extensively through that region." And yet, when we have been overworked, the physician usually prescribes a period of absolute rest; so, in
view of the multifarious uses to which get has been applied, would it not be well to permit it to retire for a time, in order that it may the more quickly be rejuvenated.
Guess, Reckon, Calculate, Allow
"I guess he is not going to vote to-day." "I reckon we are going to have fair weather now." "I calculate this ground would grow good potatoes." "I allow she's the prettiest girl that ever visited these parts." The foregoing sentences may be improved by recasting them. "I think he is not going to (or will not) vote to-day." "I believe we shall now have fair weather." "I suppose this ground would yield fine potatoes." "I regard her as the handsomest lady that has ever visited this place (or neighborhood, or locality).
"Tom is outside, cleaning his gums on the mat." While a mat will do very well for overshoes, a tooth-brush and sozodont would be better for the gums.
"Isn't it funny that Smith, who resided in Chicago, should have died the same day that his father died in Boston?" "Isn't it funny that the murderer who escaped hanging on a mere technicality of the law
should have been killed the next day in a railroad accident?" "How funny that these maples should grow so tall on this mountain top!" "It is funny to think that James, who now pays his addresses to me, should once have been in love with my youngest sister." The foregoing illustrations are not more incongruous than those we daily hear. Odd, strange, peculiar, unusual, represent some of the ideas intended to be conveyed by that much-abused word.
Good deal, Great deal
This idiom is defended by some authorities as being in perfectly good use, and by others it is denounced as being incorrect. Both good deal and greet deal are somewhat colloquial, and should be used sparingly in writing.
Had better, Would better
Like a good deal and some other idioms, this expression is denounced by some writers and defended by others. Grammatical construction supports more strongly the forms would better, would rather, etc. "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." "I would rather read than drive to-day." "I would rather not go." Omit rather and the superiority of would over had becomes apparent.
"I do not know if he sold his farm or exchanged it for city property." Use whether.
Do not use illy for ill. The former is becoming obsolete, and the latter, as an adverb, is taking its place. Say "An ill-ventilated room," not "an illy-ventilated room."
This word means tacitly understood, resting on the word or authority of another. It should not be used in the sense of unbounded, unlimited.
This word should not be used broadly in the sense of a person, but should always convey some thought of a single thing or person, as opposed to many.
As this word is from the French, jour, day, it should not be applied to a monthly or quarterly magazine.
"I do not know as I can see you to-day." Say know that.
"Did you receive my last letter?"
"I hope not. I enjoy your letters very much, and I trust you may live to write many more."
This word is much used by young ladies in speaking of what is small, or dainty, or pleasing, as "A cunning little bonnet," "A cunning little watch," etc. While the word properly embodies the idea of skill or dexterity on the part of the workman, and while the appreciation of such skill, in speaking of the artist or artisan, might be expressed by cunning, it is better not to use the word in referring to the product of the workmanship.
Curious means inquisitive, rare. In the sense of strange or remarkable, its use should be guarded.
This word is often used colloquially in the sense of clever, sharp, shrewd, ingenious, cunning. It is doubtless an abbreviation of acute. It is not found in good literary usage.
The use of the word favor in the sense of resemble is a provincialism that should be avoided. "The
son favors the father" is correct if the meaning be that the son shows favor or kindness to the father; but if reference to their similarity of appearance is intended, the verb resemble should be employed.
This word, like numerous others, has been borrowed from the commercial world, and has had such a wide use that its faultiness is not noticed even by many who regard themselves as careful speakers and writers. "I cut down part of the timber this year, and expect to cut the balance next spring." "My cousin will remain with us the balance of this week." "James ate half of the melon to-day, and will eat the balance to-morrow." In these and all similar cases the word remainder should be used. Balance is a term that applies to accounts, and signifies the amount necessary to be added to one side of the account in order to make it equal the other.
"Now, my children, you must behave while I am gone." The mother intended to ask her children to behave well, but as behave is a neutral word, and may be followed by well or ill, her form of expression permits the children to supply whichever adverb suits them the better. Behave requires a qualifying word to make the meaning clear.
"He was determined to study medicine," not "He was bound," etc. Bound implies that he was under a bond or obligation to another, rather than impelled by the action of his own mind.
While some good writers violate the rule, yet the best authorities restrict the use of the comparative degree to two objects.
"Mary is the better scholar of the two."
"Although both are young, Susan is the younger."
"Of two evils, choose the lesser," not the least.
Former and latter being adjectives of the comparative degree, should be used in speaking of two objects. When more than two objects are named, use first and last.
"My sons, John and Luther, are both at college. The first expects to study law, and the last to study medicine." Use former and latter.
"New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago are the most populous cities in the United States. The former has long been at the front; the latter has only recently entered the race." Use first and last instead of former and latter.
When objects near and remote are referred to, this and its plural these are applied to the objects near at hand, that and its plural those to objects at a distance.
When reference is made to contrasted antecedent terms, this and these are applied to the latter; that and those to the former, as
"Farewell my friends! farewell my foes! My peace with these, my love with those!" — Burns.
Do not say a fictitious writer when you mean a writer of fiction.
First is an adverb as well as an adjective. We should, therefore, say first, secondly, thirdly, and not firstly, secondly, etc.
An article may be rated in quality as first, or second, or third. If it rates first, it may be called a first-rate article. The word is properly used as an adjective, but should not be employed as an adverb, as in the sentence, "He sings first-rate."
Fix, Mend, Repair
Fix means to make fast, but its incorrect use in the sense of mend, repair, arrange, is so common that the
word when properly used sounds strange, if not strained. "To fix up the room," "to fix up the accounts," "to fix up matters with my creditors," "to fix the rascals who betrayed me," are examples illustrating the looseness with which the word is used.
When a thing is round or square it cannot be rounder or squarer. These adjectives do not admit of comparative and superlative forms. But we may say more nearly round or less nearly square.
"He states he is going fishing to-morrow." States is too formal a word, and should be used only of some important assertion. "He says he is going," etc.
To stop is to cease moving. "At what hotel do you stop" should be "At what hotel do you stay." "When you come to the city stay with me," not stop with me.
Subtile means thin, fine, rare, delicate; subtle means sly, artful, cunning, elusive. "More subtile web Arachne cannot spin." "He had to contend with a subtle foe."
He was summonsed to appear before the judge" should be "He was summoned to appear," etc.
Often used in colloquial speech when tasteful would be better. Tastily for tastefully is still worse.
Properly this word relates only to the horses, and does not include the carriage.
Those kind, These sort
"It is unpleasant to have to associate with those kind of people." "These sort of sheep are the most profitable." Kind and sort are nouns of the singular number; these and those are plural, and, according to the laws of grammar, the adjective and noun must agree in number. The corrected sentences will read: "It is unpleasant to have to associate with this kind of people." "This sort of sheep is the most profitable." The fault arises by associating in the mind the adjectives these and those with the nouns sheep and people, which nouns are more prominent in the mind than the nouns kind and sort. If the ear is not satisfied, the sentences may readily be recast; as, "It is unpleasant to have to associate with people of that kind." "Sheep of this sort are the most profitable."
This word, from trans, across, through, and spirare, to breathe, means, physiologically, to pass off in the form of vapor or insensible perspiration, or, botanically, to evaporate from living cells. Its general meaning is to become known, to escape from secrecy.
It is frequently employed in the sense of to occur, to come to pass, but this use is condemned by the best critics in England and America. "The proceedings of the secret session of the council soon transpired." This sentence illustrates the true meaning of the word.
These words may, in some cases, be used interchangeably, but make has much the wider range of meanings. The following story, related by Eli Perkins, will illustrate this fact:
I was talking one day with Mr. Depew, President of the New York Central Railroad, about demand and supply. I said the price of any commodity is always controlled by the demand and supply.
"Not always, Eli," said Depew; "demand and supply don't always govern prices. Business tact sometimes governs them."
"When," I asked, "did an instance ever occur when the price did not depend on demand and supply?"
"Well," said Mr. Depew, "the other day I stepped up to a German butcher, and, out of curiosity, asked:
"'What's the price of sausages?'
"'Dwenty cends a bound,' he said.
"'You asked twenty-five this morning,' I replied.
"'Yah; dot vas ven I had some. Now I ain't got none, I sell him for dwenty cents. Dot makes a repudation for selling cheab, und I don't lose noddings.'
"You see," said Mr. Depew, laughing, "I didn't want any sausage and the man didn't have any; no demand and no supply, and still the price of sausage went down five cents."
"Well, there are strange things in this world," I said. "Now, take the words manufacture and make. I always thought that both words meant the same thing."
"Why, they do, Eli," said Mr. Depew.
"Not always," I said.
"Now, when could they have a different meaning?"
"Why, this morning I came down from Albany on a Central car manufactured to carry fifty passengers, but it was made to carry seventy-two people."
"Yes, I dare say; but we'll now talk about the Behring Sea question."
"The veracity of his statement is doubted." The sentence should be, "The truth of his statement is doubted," or "In making that statement his veracity is doubted." Veracity is applied to the person; truth to the thing.
Try the experiment
"They are trying the experiment of running railroad trains by electricity." This should be, "They are making the experiment," etc. The word experiment contains the idea of trial, hence, to try the experiment is to try the trial.
"I will go with you a little piece." A short distance or a part of the way would be more appropriate.
"I have every confidence in his ability to succeed." Confidence is a unit; every implies several units considered separately. "I have the greatest confidence in his ability to succeed" is correct.
This word properly applies to the appearance of a person or thing, hence such expressions as "He has an ugly temper," "This is an ugly customer," "That was an ugly rumor," etc., although common in colloquial discourse, should be avoided in dignified address.
This is a provincialism that should be avoided. Use unknown.
Often incorrectly used for underhand; as "That was a contemptible and underhanded trick."
This word means not writing, simply, but beautiful writing; hence, to say, "His calligraphy is wretched" is equivalent to saying, "His excellent writing is poor," which is a contradiction of terms.
Can but, Cannot but
These expressions are sometimes confounded. "If I perish, I can but perish," means "I can only perish," or "I can do no more than perish." "I cannot but speak of the things I have heard" means that I am under a moral necessity to speak of these things. The past tense forms could but and could not but should be, in like manner, discriminated.
The latter word is sometimes used in place of the former. The first is legitimate; the second is without authority. The words specialty and speciality have a termination similar to the above. They may generally be used interchangeably and are both legitimate.
"The lady is light complected, has blue eyes, and auburn hair." Complected is a provincialism without sanction. "The lady is of light complexion, has blue eyes," etc.
This word is obsolete. Use forget, or "I do not remember."
The verbs lie and lay are often confounded, even by intelligent persons. Lie does not take an object. We cannot lie a thing. It is therefore intransitive.
Lay, which means to place in position, requires an object. We lay a book on a table, or bricks on the wall. It is therefore transitive.
The principal parts of the first verb are lie, lay, lain; and of the second, lay, laid, laid. The word lay is found in both, and this is, in part, accountable for the confusion. The most frequent errors result from using laid, the past tense form of the transitive verb, when the word lay, the past tense form of the intransitive verb, should be used. The ear naturally expects the usual past tense ending of the d or t sound, and as that is absent in the past tense of lie, the past tense form of the other verb is substituted. For the same reason the participle form laid is often incorrectly used for lain.
"He told me to lie down, and I lay down," not laid down. "I told him to lay the book down, and he laid it down." "The ship lay at anchor." "They lay by during the storm." "The book is lying on the shelf." "He lay on the ground and took cold." "They lay in ambush." "Lie low or he will discover you." "The goods are still lying on his hands." "Time lay heavily on their hands." "We must lie over at the next station." "A motion was made that the resolution lie on the table." "Now I lie down to sleep." "Now I lay me down to sleep."
The foregoing sentences illustrate the correct usage of these confusing verbs.
"Did your cousin go to town yesterday?" "Not as I know." Better, "Not that I know." Better still, "I do not know." "I do not know as I shall go." Use that for as.
As it is a rare thing to have a good toothache, we scarcely need the adjective bad to distinguish between the two kinds of toothache. Say severe.
After verbs of seeing, feeling, tasting, and smelling, the adverb is often incorrectly used for the adjective.
"The colonel looked handsomely in his military dress," "I feel splendidly to-day," "This peach tastes badly," "The rose smells sweetly," are incorrect. Use handsome for handsomely, very well or in good spirits for splendidly, tastes bad or has a disagreeable taste for badly, and sweet for sweetly.
Beg, Beg leave
"I beg to announce the sale of a collection of rare and costly rugs." "I beg to acknowledge your kindness in sending me this handsome present." In each case say "I beg leave to," etc.
His success was due to his honesty and energy." That is due which should be paid as a debt; that is owing which is referred to as a cause or source.
"The bill is now due and payable at the gas office." "His success was owing to his honesty and energy."
"I see him at his office each day of the week." In this sentence the word every would be better. Each refers to single days particularized. Here reference is made to what occurs on all days without exception.
Both words refer to nouns in the singular, hence such expressions as the following are incorrect:
"Every soldier and sailor stood at their post." "The prisoners were discharged and went each their several ways." Correct by saying, "The prisoners were discharged and went each his several way," "Every soldier and sailor stood at his post."
"Both parties maintained their original positions." As the parties are thought of separately, the sentence should be: "Each party maintained its original position." "Both parties strove to place their best candidates upon the ticket" is correct, because the parties are thought of collectively.
Both, Both of
Both is used alone before nouns and both of before pronouns. "Both men have studied the currency question." "Both of them are well informed in matters relating to the currency."
"Let him be ever so rich," says Emerson. "You spend ever so much money in entertaining your equals and betters," says Thackeray. "Though he run ever so fast, he cannot win the race." Writers and grammarians differ, some preferring ever, others never.
Every once in a while
This is a cumbersome, awkward expression that should be avoided. Occasionally, frequently, at intervals, are among the expressions that may be used in its place.
"He enjoyed exceptionable opportunities for acquiring the Greek language." Say exceptional opportunities.
The word female is often employed when woman would be better. Female applies to all of the feminine gender, including the brute creation.
The tendency to increase the number of nouns with the feminine ending ess should be checked. Avoid poetess, authoress, doctress, and other newly-invented words of this kind.
Fewer refers to number, less to quantity. "He had less friends than I, and yet he was elected." Say "He had fewer friends." "There were no less than fifty cows in the field." Use fewer.
In some portions of the South the expression right smart is employed in colloquial discourse to convey
the idea of a large quantity or in large measure; as, "We have right smart of peaches this summer," meaning "We have a large crop of peaches;" "He knows right smart of Latin" for "He knows considerable Latin" or "He is well versed in Latin."
"Will you have some of this pudding?"
"If you please. Give me a little bit."
"Did you injure yourself when you fell?"
"No; but I soiled my clothing a little bit."
A small portion or piece, in the first sentence, and slightly, in the second, would serve as good equivalents for a little bit.
"There was a sight of people at the fair to-day." In the sense of a large number, this word, like the word lot, should be avoided.
A dozen persons may constitute a crowd if they push and jostle one another by reason of insufficient space. A thousand men will not form a crowd if all have ample room to sit or stand or move about.
This word is not authorized. Chock-full and choke-full may be used, but are not elegant.
Contemplate is often incorrectly used for propose; as, "I contemplate going to the country."
Dispense, Dispense with
These expressions are not synonymous. To dispense is to give; to dispense with is to do without. The pharmacist dispenses medicines; we should be pleased if we could dispense with them.
Dry is often incorrectly used in the sense of thirsty; as, "I am dry; let me have a glass of water." To say, "I am dry; my waterproof and umbrella kept out the rain," is correct.
Do not call a German a Dutchman. A Dutchman comes from Holland, a German from Germany.
Evacuate means to make empty, and should not be used in the sense of to go away, to vacate.
Different than, Different to
"The school is conducted in a very different manner than it used to be." "This basket of roses is different to yours." The above and similar expressions are decided vulgarisms, and should be avoided.
"The school is conducted in a very different manner from what it used to be." "This basket of roses is different from yours."
Some confusion exists in the use of the words drive and ride. In England the distinction is made of applying ride to going on horseback and drive to going in a carriage, whether you ride or drive. That usage is not closely followed in this country. He who guides the horse drives; the rest of the company ride. The noun and participial forms are more excusable than the verb. "Jones asked me to drive with him this afternoon." But as Jones expects to do the driving himself, the speaker should have said, "Jones asked me to take a ride," or "go driving," or "take a drive," etc.
The word couple is often incorrectly used in the sense of several; as, a couple of horses, mules, birds, trees, houses, etc. The use of the word couple is not only limited to two, but to two that may be coupled or yoked together. A man and wife are spoken of as a couple. We speak of a span of horses, a yoke of oxen, a brace of ducks, a pair of gloves.
Directly, Immediately, As soon as
A faulty English use of the above words has found some favor in the United States. "Directly the whistle blew the workmen left the shop." Say "As soon as the whistle blew," etc. "Immediately he closed his speech his opponent rose to reply." Say "When" or "As soon as he closed his speech," etc.