Friday, December 20, 2002

We Have a Winner

I've made a very unscientific study of what language tics are bothering me most as 2002 wanes, and at the end of the day, the winner for cliche of the year is . . .

"At the end of the day."

Days do end, and sometimes it's necessary to refer to that, so I'm not advocating a search-and-destroy mission for those words. But the phrase appears to be taking over the world as a substitute for other cliches, such as "When all is said and done" and "When the dust settles." In a slightly more scientific study, I searched the LexisNexis database for appearances of "At the end of the day" in The Washington Post. The growth of the cliche was striking: The phrase appeared 39 times in 1980, 140 times in 1995 and 273 times (so far) in 2002.

The cliche is not a 2002 phenomenon, of course. The most significant leap appeared in 1998, with 213 appearances -- up from 142 in 1997. This year just happened to be when this irritant, at least for me, leapt from the background, like the one-minute-unnoticeable, the-next-minute-intolerable noise from the newsroom TV that nobody from the day side ever bothers to turn off.

What to use instead? Ultimately comes to mind as one possibility. You're the editor. Use your imagination.

Friday, October 18, 2002

But, But, But ...

This sentence appeared in my newspaper, The Washington Post:

The sniper has struck morning, noon and night, but his most recent targets have been near highways.

Police were looking on the "time" side of the time-space continuum, I suppose, so he eluded them by striking in "space" instead.

I don't mean to pick on editors who probably had very little time to go over this story; I'm just using a handy illustration of a common error:

"But" is not a toy. When you see it as an editor or are tempted to use it as a writer, ask yourself whether it's actually pointing out a seeming contradiction or whether it's just there for decoration. Does the highway thing contradict the "morning, noon and night" thing? Of course not. Usually, then, you could repair the damage by changing "but" to "and." In this case, however, the two parts of the sentence aren't even that closely related. Get me rewrite!

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

One 'Children' Is Enough

In a quick look at a very good newspaper the other day I saw both each others' and childrens'.

Let's review: Each other is what it is. It exists outside the realm of singulars and plurals, and so there is no plural -- there is no each others. So the possessive cannot be each others'. The possessive is each other's.

Children is already plural. Childrens makes no sense; just as you don't say kidses, you don't say childrens. So the possessive cannot be childrens'. The possessive is children's.

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

On Balance

A belated corporate-malfeasance item:

Enron got in trouble for activities that were off its balance sheet, or off-balance-sheet activities. The hyphen-phobic write of off-balance sheet activities, which sounds more like a description of what happens when you go to bed drunk.

A more common error by those afraid of putting more than one hyphen in a sentence is the botching of the adjectival form for ages. A man who is 24 years old is a 24-year-old man. What, then, is a 24-year old man? That would be someone who's been an old man for 24 years. And 24 year-old men? A very odd way to refer to two dozen baby boys.

Friday, June 07, 2002

'Star Wars' Is Old News

This is nothing new to those who have read my book or who are even the slightest bit aware of their surroundings, but again I feel compelled to point out that "Star Wars" is a 1977 movie. The current bit of magical-alien-spaceship-future-robot bullshit is "Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones" or "the new 'Star Wars' movie" or "the latest 'Star Wars' movie," but it's not "Star Wars."

Sorry for the rude characterization, but I just can't stomach this stuff. I have no imagination.

Wednesday, May 01, 2002

'Within' Limits

There's nothing inherently wrong with the word within, but often it's used when a simple in would do. Observe:

    A decision is expected within four to six days.

No. A range provides a beginning and an end; ranges make no sense with within, because within comes equipped with its own beginning: now.

    A deal could be announced within the next week.

No. In! In the next week makes perfect sense.

    If the letter does not arrive within five business days, the deal is off.

Yes! That's what the word is for. The meaning isn't in five business days, because that would exclude one, two, three and four business days.

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

A Lack of Interest

"Why, it's zero percent!" would be an appropriate answer to the question "What percentage rate are you paying on your car loan?" Free of the constraints imposed by the structure of that question, however, you could surely find a better way of expressing that idea than "zero-percent financing." "No-interest financing" works, for instance, as does "interest-free financing." Or you could simply call it "free financing," just as you'd refer to something as "free" and not "costing zero dollars and zero cents."