Getting Possessive About Nouns Q. I recently told a fellow Steinway Society board member that no apostrophe is needed in "winners recital" (a concert featuring several pianists) any more than one is needed in "teachers union." What we have here is a noun modifying another noun. …Read more. 'If Not' Poses Knotty Questions In crafting a college recommendation for a student recently, I unintentionally sailed into the murky mist of ambiguity by writing: "She is very bright, if not brilliant." Hmm... Does this mean she's very bright but not brilliant, or very bright and …Read more. If the 'T' Fits, Wear It Q. Why do we say something "fits to a T"? — Al Cohen, Newington, Conn. A. Well, this idiom definitely doesn't come from "fits to a T-shirt," because every T-shirt I've worn lately is either too baggy or too tight. A large T-shirt makes me look …Read more. O, Pun! Says Me Pity the pun. Spurned as the lowest and dullest form of wit, the pun elicits groans not giggles. Charles Lamb called the pun "a pistol let off at the ear." Ambrose Bierce defined the pun as "a form of wit, to which wise men stoop and fools aspire." …Read more.more articles
This Is Not Too Good 'of a' Usage
Q: It drives me nuts to hear things like "It wasn't too good of a game." Is this usage ever correct? —Cynthia Ashworth, Granby, Conn.
A: The unnecessary "of" occurs quite often in spoken English, but all usage authorities condemn its use in formal written English. That sentence should be written as "It wasn't too good a game."
In a 1997 poll, 68 percent of the American Heritage Dictionary's usage panel disapproved of the sentence "That's too long of a movie to sit through," (though they did say that "of a" could be excused if the movie was "Ishtar").
So why do people continue to insert the needless "of"?
Saying "of a" seems natural because we use the phrase so often in other phrases, e.g., "sort of a problem," "two of a kind," "a heck of a game." And the natural ONE-two-three stress pattern of "It WASn't that GOOD of a "GAME" makes it easier to say than "It WASn't that GOOD a GAME."
Q: I was taught to say "different from." It seems most people say "different than." Is each correctly used in different contexts? —Donna Mottilla, Hampton, Va.
A: Yes. "Different from" is the correct phrase when comparing something to a noun ("The movie seems different from the book"), or to a noun phrase ("The movie seems different from the book in the library") or to a gerund ("The movie seems different from reading the book").
But when the object of comparison is expressed as a full clause, "than" is the correct choice ("The movie seems different than it did 20 years ago").
Q: How would you treat the term "social media" (which encompasses Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc.)? "Media" is plural, so does "social media" take a plural verb, or can you think of it as a collective noun and use a singular verb? —Sue Fracasso, Kensington, Conn.
A: During the 1980s, when "media" referred to a monolithic group of established newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets, people started using the plural "media" as a singular, e.g., "The media is obsessed with this story." Many usage authorities condemned this as a misuse.
But now that methods of communication have diversified to include cell phones, blogs, emails and the social sites you mentioned, "media" is being used more frequently (and correctly) as a plural, as in "the social media are proliferating."
So here's a rare example of expanding technology actually encouraging a return to traditional correct usage!
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 email to Wordguy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
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