If you’re going to use youse, be sure yez spell it correctly – Wood on Words – incorrect spelling and grammar in news articles

If you’re going to use youse, be sure yez spell it correctly – Wood on Words – incorrect spelling and grammar in news articles – Column

Alden Wood

‘Hi Alden,” cheerily chirped Sheila Foster at the top of her Aug. 10 e-mail dispatched from Calgary.

“We Canadians take a lot of flak about our forest industry so here’s a good one for you…(the 8/8) Calgary Herald ran a story passed along from one Julian Beltrame from the Canadian Press, Washington. Writing on the (yawn) latest Billygoat Billygate he writes of Monica Lewinsky:

“‘But until her appearance, no one outside the grand jury has had the advantage of listening to the timber of her voice and looking into the steadiness of her eyes to assess believability.’

“Well, now, maybe it was the timber of Monica’s voice that felled the president!”

Ms. Foster is sole prop of Target Communications, “a PR consulting company which is open when my computer’s on….” Her eye for a solecism appears to be open 24/7. American Heritage Dictionary III says at timber “Trees or wooded land considered as a source of wood; wood used as a building material, lumber.” Random House Webster’s College Dictionary (1997) says much the same and adds “a person regarded as having exceptional qualifications: He’s presidential timber.”

Needed? Timbre. RHWCD says of it, “The characteristic quality of a sound, independent of pitch and loudness, depending on the number and relative strengths of its component frequencies, as determined by resonance.”

* Adding to redundancies here displayed last June, Stanford U.’s prima word-woman, Kathleen Much, sighed, “How could you forget the dreadful H[uman] I[mmunodeficiency] V[irus] virus and I[nternet] R[elay] C[hat] chat? In my job, I’m often nipping at ‘new initiatives’ and ‘new innovations’. :(” Thanks, KM, as always.

On the same theme, U. of Chicago hanger-on Ward Smything III “(aka Leon Stem)” asserts, “People are not really saying ATM machine or PIN number, rather A.T.M. machine, Pin number. What they are saying is Pinumber and A.T.M-achine, or Ay-tee-emmachine. (Left unanswered is why people don’t say P.I.N. number.) The third letter of the acronym is NOT included. It’s a convenience, a gesture at clarity; yes, because it is readily comprehended. We spell it ‘PIN number’ for the same reason. Pinumber is not yet in the dictionary.” Thanks, Wardsmith.

* If you favor wordplay, or know someone who does, buy Richard Lederer’s brand new Lighter Side of Language title “Word Circus,” U.S.$14.95 from Merriam-Webster Inc. From fresh palindromes – “Star Comedy by Democrats” – to word ladders and grammagrams and ana-grammatical riddles – What have thorn, shout, seat/sate, and stew/wets in common? They are anagrams of north, south, east, and west – this high-torque little powerhouse of word games never slows and never quits. Most cold-blooded anagram: from Robert Dole you can get elder robot; from Tom Cruise, So I’m cuter. 295 pages.

* My wife was checking out a wiccan chat room recently and collected this unholy inquiry from a walk-in; “Are all of youse witches?” But the really unholy part is that the inquirer spelled his slangful plural use. [For those who care, youse appears in only one of the front-four desk dictionaries (RHWC, above), where it’s defined “pron. Nonstandard. you (usu. used in addressing two or more people.” Youse’all take care now, hear?]

* It is important to listen to what you write…and to what somebody else writes for you to say. Take the gee-whiz news-reader on NBC who announced that an NBA coach’s racehorse had “suffered a career-ending injury.” Hey, did anybody talk to the horse? I mean, what’s the nag’s spin? Like, a barrow of oats a week and a fortnightly frolic at the stud farm…this is a career? Pay that writer off in meadow muffins.

* If my math is right, 11/98 ends this column’s opening decade working for Gloria Gordon and CommWorld as IABC’s linguistic nag screen, ever in search of adverse linguistic events. Thanks to everyone who has taken the moment to note and send along cites that serve to remind us all of all those pitfalls. Don’t quit now.

* Here’s a particularly painful item from The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page last summer: “Reunion: The American Society of Magazine Editors just inducted two notables into it’s Hall of Fame….” Funny how right that treacherous it’s can look…. Here, it’s its.

* Do-The-Research Department: A national daily newspaper’s Personal Technology column discusses armchair warriors’ battle missions. A fantasy fighter-pilot says, “It goes like this: I spot a pair of B-25 bombers, a couple of sitting ducks that are no match for my Spitfire IXE fighter…. As I line up my gun sites….”

Um, that would be gun sight….and I think the Spit had but one. The gun sites were in the plane’s two wings; four machineguns per wing. Also, ’tisn’t cricket for a British Spitfire to let fly at an American B-25. Bad show, really. Same side and all that, y’know.

Alden Wood, APR, lecturer on editorial procedures at Simmons College, Boston, Mass., writes and lectures on language usage. He is a retired insurance industry vice president of advertising and public relations. His e-mail address is awood@simmons.edu.

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