Five Linguistic Oddities in the Media
Here are five usages that caught my attention recently.
aye and yea
Both aye [pronounced “I”] and yea [pronounced “yay”] mean “yes.” Archaic in Standard American English, they still exist in some English dialects and are retained in the formal language of voting. The etymology of aye is uncertain, but yea was a form of yes before 1600.
As I watched the confirmation of the most recent Supreme Court justice, I heard the senators respond by saying either Aye or No. Nobody said Yea or Nay. Once the votes had been counted, I waited for the chairman to say, “the Ayes have it,” but he disappointed me. He said “the Yea’s have it.” I protest. The Ayes had it.
boar n. The male of the swine, whether wild or tame
I did a double-take when I read this in the New York Times on 20 October 2020:
The euthanizing of a boar and her six piglets has aroused fury in Rome.
The female of the swine is known as a sow (rhymes with cow).
reign and rein
The words are pronounced the same, but have different uses.
to reign (verb): of a person: to hold or exercise the sovereign power or authority in a monarchical state; to rule or govern as a monarch
to rein (verb): to tie (a horse) to something by the reins.
to rein in (verb phrase): to keep under control, restrain.
Although reign is often substituted for rein in the idiom “to give free rein,” professional writers and editors should know the difference. Here is a mix-up from a recent issue of Time Magazine:
The last hope, says Black, is that [he] will reign himself in in the final two weeks.
objectively and objectionably
objectively (adverb): without being influenced by personal feelings or opinions; in an impartial or detached manner
objectionably (adverb): in an objectionable manner.
Of these two words, objectively is in frequent use. The fraz.it site brings up 1,124 sentences with it, but produces not one example for objectionably.
This sentence from a report issued by the Texas Rangers in connection with the killing of Jonathan Price has appeared unaltered in various news sources:
The preliminary investigation indicates that the actions of Officer Lucas were not objectionably reasonable.
The first time I read it, I thought it meant the officer’s actions had been found to be reasonable, that there was nothing to object to. As I read further, I discovered that the opposite was true. The Rangers charged Lucas with murder because his actions had been influenced by something other than objectivity. The writer of the report could have simply written “the actions were not reasonable.” No intensifier was needed. Perhaps the writer was reaching for objectively.
to give (someone) pause
This common idiom means, “to cause (someone) to stop and think about something carefully or to have doubts about something.”
This is what a local TV announcer said about someone in the news:
. . . he has pause about doing so this year.
The usual verb in this idiom is give. Here are some examples of the expression used with both indirect objects and prepositional phrases:
The grounds on which those efforts are said to be based, however, give us pause.
Chile’s incumbent left hopes the Jara and Frei Montalva cases give voters pause.
That they are not used should give you pause for thought, why are they not used?
The research should give pause to anyone addicted to incoming texts and tweets.
What happened next should give pause to any person with an ounce of compassion.
The first is not much of a deterrent, but the second should give Apple pause.
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