Ten ... Well, Nine Linguistic Resolutions for 2017

By Rob Kyff

January 4, 2017 3 min read

The long winter afternoons and evenings of January invite contemplation, self-reflection, and the occasional glass of wine. So, after raising my wine glass to the New Year, here are my 10 linguistic resolutions for 2017.

—I will choose the specific word over the general word. The verb in this column's first sentence, for instance, was initially "bring." "Invite" is more precise and evocative.

—I will write concisely. For instance, the fourth sentence of this column initially read, "The verb in my initial rendering of the first sentence in this column was 'bring.'" The final version is shorter and clearer.

—I will use "fewer" and "number" to refer to countable items, e.g., "fewer people," "the number of people," never "less people," "the amount of people."

—I will not confuse "every day" with "everyday," "compliment" with "complement," "rein" with "reign," "undue" with "undo," "affect" with "effect," "further" with "farther," "elicit" with "illicit," "elude" with "allude," or "lie" with "lay."

—I will not use the weasel-word pronoun "myself" to replace "I" or "me," e.g., "Jane talked with her and myself," "Please give the book to Jack or myself." I will instead reserve "myself" for use as a reflexive pronoun, e.g., "I will include myself on the list of miscreants," or as an intensive pronoun, e.g., "I've made that mistake myself."

—I will place "only" in its correct position. Consider the different meanings of these sentences: Only I sipped the wine. I only sipped the wine. I sipped only the wine.

7. I will continue to pronounce "forte," meaning strength, as "fort," not "FOR-tay," even though many usage experts now accept "FOR-tay."

—I will never use a modifier with the absolute adjective "unique," e.g., "most unique," "more unique," "very unique."

—I will use "who," not "that," to refer to people. I will not write, "I am the one that sipped the wine," but instead, "I am the one who sipped the wine."

—I will not use the phrase "beg the question" to mean "raise the question" or "avoid the question." I will respect the traditional, if esoteric, meaning of "beg the question" — the fallacy of logic that occurs when a person assumes to be true the very thing he or she is seeking to prove. If I, for instance, were to say, "Using 'beg the question' is wrong because doing so is incorrect," I have begged the question.

OK, too complicated! Make that nine resolutions.

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 [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

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