Friday, August 29, 2014

maddening crowd/madding crowd: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, August 29–31, 2014

maddening crowd/madding crowd
When Thomas Hardy titled one of his novels Far from the Madding Crowd he was quoting a phrase from Thomas Gray’s 1750 poem “Elegy on a Country Churchyard” which used the archaic spelling “madding.” The only reason to refer to “madding crowds” is to show how sophisticated you are, but if you update the spelling to “maddening” it will have the opposite effect: you’ll look ignorant.



___________

The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Not a bunch of baloney: Ben Zimmer gets to the meat of the issue" (May 3, 2013). Bonus tie-in: Ben Zimmer is an uncredited contributor to William, James & Company's own Far from the Madding Gerund.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

their’s/theirs: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, August 28, 2014

their’s/theirs
Like the related possessive pronouns “ours,” “his,” and “hers,” “theirs” does not take an apostrophe.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

behaviors/behavior: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Wednesday, August 27, 2014

behaviors/behavior 
“Behavior” has always referred to patterns of action, including multiple actions, and did not have a separate plural form until social scientists created it. Unless you are writing in psychology, sociology, anthropology, or a related field, it is better to avoid the use of “behaviors” in your writing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

wash: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Tuesday, August 26, 2014

wash 
In my mother’s Oklahoma dialect, “wash” was pronounced “warsh,” and I was embarrassed to discover in school that the inclusion of the superfluous R sound was considered ignorant. This has made me all the more sensitive now that I live in Washington to the mispronunciation “Warshington.” Some people tell you that after you “warsh” you should “wrench” (“rinse”).

Monday, August 25, 2014

zero-sum gain/zero-sum game: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Monday, August 25, 2014

zero-sum gain/zero-sum game 
The concept of a zero-sum game was developed first in game theory: what one side gains the other loses. When applied to economics it is often contrasted with a “win-win” situation in which both sides can make gains without anyone losing. People who are unaware of the phrase’s origins often mistakenly substitute “gain” for “game.”

Friday, August 22, 2014

got/gotten: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, August 22–24, 2014

got/gotten
In the UK, the old word “gotten” dropped out of use except in such stock phrases as “ill-gotten” and “gotten up,” but in the US it is frequently used as the past participle of “get.” Sometimes the two are interchangeable; however, “got” implies current possession, as in “I’ve got just five dollars to buy my dinner with.” “Gotten,” in contrast, often implies the process of getting hold of something: “I’ve gotten five dollars for cleaning out Mrs. Quimby’s shed,” emphasizing the earning of the money rather than its possession. Phrases that involve some sort of process usually involve “gotten”: “My grades have gotten better since I moved out of the fraternity.” When you have to leave, you’ve got to go. If you say you’ve “gotten to go” you’re implying someone gave you permission to go.


___________
It looks like "chomp" has gotten the best of "champ," according to Paul Brians' latest blog post.


The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Literally comical" (August 22, 2013).

Thursday, August 21, 2014

leach/leech: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Thursday, August 21, 2014

leach/leech 
Water leaches chemicals out of soil or color out of cloth; your brother-in-law leeches off the family by constantly borrowing money to pay his gambling debts (he behaves like a bloodsucking leech).