Does “Raze” Need “to the Ground”?

A reader asks about the sentence: “Vikings razed many monasteries to the ground.” Is not “to the ground” in this statement superfluous? Where else could it be razed to? The question puts me in mind of Lear’s response when his daughter proposed to reduce some of his amenities because he didn’t need them: Reason not … Read more

Fringes, Fringes Everywhere

Lately I’ve been struck by the frequency with which I encounter the word fringe in the media. I can recall a time when my only associations for the word were with the trim on my mother’s lampshades and the term “fringe benefits.” Fringe entered English as frenge from French with the meaning, “an ornamental bordering, … Read more

Career and Careen

A reader asks: Could you clarify whether a car “careens” or “careers” off the road? Are both usable? The original meanings of the words are quite different. Career stems from horse-related activities, and careen has a nautical origin. Career Career functions as a noun and as a verb. The noun has changed more over time … Read more

Punctuating Appositives

A reader requests clarification on the punctuation of appositives: I would like to see a piece on the punctuation of appositives. Decades ago, I somehow came to believe that an appositive in which the first noun is general and the second noun is specific is not offset by commas. Conversely, if the first noun of … Read more

Honest, Candid, and Frank

I’m always glad to receive topic suggestions from readers. Sometimes I may not quite understand what is wanted, but comments can still trigger a train of thought leading to a post. Recently, a reader complained about “Gen Z’s use of honest in place of candor or frank.” Lacking examples of the perceived misuse, I could … Read more

A Tin Ear for Pronouns

Another of my certainties has been shattered. Like anyone who has tried to explain why we do not say “Jack and me went to France” or “They invited my wife and I to the party,” I have always used the same approach. Incorrect use of object pronoun form as subject Person says: Jack and me … Read more

Addendum to Legal Terms in the News

A recent post about legal terms in the news drew several interesting comments from readers, prompting this addendum. One reader pointed out that I’d omitted the term “stare decisis.” As I recall, “stare decisis” is the very term that led me to write the post in the first place, but somehow, I managed to leave … Read more

Them’s the Breaks

Including an extract from Boris Johnson’s recent resignation speech, a reader suggested that a post on the expression “them’s the breaks” might be in order. I was a bit puzzled, considering that the expression is quite common. I was surprised that the out-going British Prime Minister, a classical scholar, graduate of Oxford’s Balliol College, would … Read more

Shakespeare, Pronouns, and the New World Order

One of my favorite go-to news sources is the BBC Daily News. Reading an account of a shooting in Norway not long ago, I came to this sentence: King Harald, Norway’s monarch, said him and his family were horrified. The BBC is an institution I have long admired. During the seven years I lived in … Read more

Disavowed and Disabused

One day, not long ago, I read a story in the Guardian about a man who mistook an alligator for a dog. The following sentence made me grab my pen: But the man was quickly disavowed of his belief the creature was a dog when it bit him on the leg. What? Surely the writer … Read more

Biased and Prejudiced Against

In a recent post about confusion between the words precedent and precedence, a reader commented on a similar confusion between noun-adjective distinctions like bias/biased and prejudice/prejudiced. Thereby hangs this post. bias (noun): Tendency to favor or dislike a person or thing, especially as a result of a preconceived opinion; partiality, prejudice. biased (adjective): Influenced by … Read more

Legal Terms for Reading the News

As investigations, hearings, and trials flood the news media, a short glossary of legal terms may be useful to readers. Anyone who has watched enough Law & Order episodes probably already knows quite a few legal terms, such as warrant, subpeona, voir dire, and mens rea. Here are some terms and examples from recent news … Read more