Sunday, December 21, 2008

Another Peevologist

Warren Clements, a member of The Globe and Mail’s editorial board, had nothing better to write about this week, so he decided to whinge about expressions that irk him. How original! How charming!

Well, I'm afraid, Mr. Clements, that your column has problems, not issues.

You write, "The whole comprises the parts; the parts compose the whole." According to Merriam Webester's Online: "Although it has been in use since the late 18th century, sense 3 (the one you disagree with) is still attacked as wrong. Why it has been singled out is not clear, but until comparatively recent times it was found chiefly in scientific or technical writing rather than belles lettres. Our current evidence shows a slight shift in usage: sense 3 is somewhat more frequent in recent literary use than the earlier senses. You should be aware, however, that if you use sense 3 you may be subject to criticism for doing so, and you may want to choose a safer synonym such as compose or make up."

And that of disappearing from a couple of? Isn't one of your bugbears wordiness? Omit needless words and all that? If we can make do without the of, all the better, wouldn't you say?

Home in on indeed appears to predate hone in on, but only by nine years (the earliest home in on citation in the OED is 1956). Both are newish and both require a metaphorical leap, so it's hard to see how you can be so certain that one is right and one wrong.

Finally, you nominate win big as a bugbear, do you? Just what we need: another petty pet hate. So kind of you to share. Perhaps you might take a lesson from Jan Freeman over at the other Globe. Her columns are replete with research; they educate the reader.

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