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Don't Forsake Meaning of 'Namesake'

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First, some fun: A reader recently e-mailed me this puzzler, and I can't resist sharing it with you:

There is something unusual about these eight words. See whether you can figure it out: assess, banana, dresser, grammar, potato, revive, uneven, voodoo. The answer is at the end of the column. No peeking, but there's a clue lurking below.

— namesake — A few months ago, I wrote about the misuse of "ancestor" to mean "descendent." Now Ralph Sims of Baton Rouge, La., reports that "namesake" is being used in a similar way — to indicate the person or entity whose name is given to another, rather than the person or entity that has been named for another.

He quotes this passage from a recent magazine article: "Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute and great-grandson of its legendary namesake."

I was all set to give this breach of linguistic etiquette a scolding worthy of Emily Post, until I discovered that Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary accepts this REVERSAL. It defines "namesake" as "one that has the same name as another; esp. one who is named after another or for whom another is named." Those last five words mean that Emily Post could indeed be the namesake of the Emily Post institute.

All the other name-brand dictionaries I consulted limit the meaning of "namesake" to the person or entity named for another.

So the use of "namesake" for the person whose name inspires another's is still, as Emily herself might have put it, frowned upon in polite company.

— reverend — Another restriction that appears to be easing is the prohibition on using "reverend" as a noun. Traditionally, "reverend" has been regarded exclusively as an adjective, meaning "revered, honorable" as in "the Reverend Kenneth Morris."

Using "Reverend Morris" or "the reverend" has long been considered a "clerical" error. But English speakers have been using "reverend" as a noun since the 1600s, and this practice has become more common in recent decades.

Kenneth Morris, by the way, was the minister of the Episcopal church I attended as a boy. He would have wanted me to remind you that "Episcopalian" is a noun and never an adjective. So it's "Episcopal minister," not "Episcopalian minister."

Puzzler answer: If you take the first letter of each word, place it at the end of the word and read the word backward, it will be the same word.

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via e-mail to Wordguy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA 90045. To find out more about Rob Kyff and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.



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