Rite, Shine, and Recognize

By Maeve Maddox

Here are three miscellaneous errors that cropped up in one morning’s batch of letters to the editor in my morning paper.

1. A reader responding to an editorial opposing a proposed state requirement for schools to provide compulsory instruction in cursive handwriting:

Your thumbs-down reasoning on the state imposing cursive (a right of passage), and linking that to change vs. “old” ways, overlooks, as many often do, an important point.

The purchase of a plane ticket might be said to confer a “right of passage.” In the context of the letter, however, the learning of cursive handwriting is viewed by the reader as a significant event in a child’s journey to adulthood. Such a transition from one phase of life to another is a “rite of passage.”

2. A reader urging the newspaper staff to scrutinize elected officials in order to make their failings public:

First, I want to assure you I believe in light being shown on how our elected people are managing their responsibilities.

The past form of the verb to shine is shone. The reader believes that light should be shone on elected officials.

Note: Some English speakers prefer shined to shone.

3. A reader talking about the way politicians try to hurry the public into making decisions before all the facts are known:

There are plenty that oppose this, but most intelligent people realize a railroad when they see one.

The verb “to railroad” is a colloquialism meaning “to rush or coerce a person or thing in a particular direction or to a particular conclusion.” The noun deriving from this verb is also railroad. It means “an attempt at hurrying someone into a questionable decision.”

The problem here is the use of realize in a context that calls for recognize. The intended meaning is that people are familiar enough with the practice of railroading to know an example of it when they see it. A person could “realize that they are being railroaded,” but they would “recognize a railroad when they see it.”

recognize verb: to perceive to be the same as something or someone previously known or encountered.

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