Many people complain about the use of elecrocute to mean "to shock non-lethally." But as with most usage complaints, it's not that simple. The argument is that electrocute only means "to kill with electricity," not "to shock with electricity." The purists have etymology on their side — but only to a degree.  Continue reading...
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Lately I've been noticing the phrase as such everywhere. It's not just a recency illusion; according to corpus data, it really is on the rise. And with that rise comes a shift in function and a corresponding effort to halt that shift.  Continue reading...
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The long-running battle between descriptivists and prescriptivists involves many arguments about whether particular points of usage are right or wrong. Plenty of arguments boil down to "Just because everybody does it doesn't make it right!" I've occasionally asked, "So what would make it right?" but I've never received a real answer.  Continue reading...
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The distinction between that and which is a favorite among usage writers. It's an interesting usage item for several reasons: first, it is an invention that was first proposed in the early 1800s yet didn't catch on until the 1900s; second, it's primarily, though not exclusively, an American distinction; and third, it has been very successful in print, though I think a good portion of its success is attributable to copy editors.  Continue reading...
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We'd like to welcome Jonathon Owen, a copy editor and book designer with a master's degree in linguistics, as our newest regular contributor! Here Jonathon explains how he discovered that an oft-quoted example of George Orwell using singular "they" turned out not to be by Orwell after all.  Continue reading...
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Jonathon Owen is a copy editor and student of linguistics who "holds the paradoxical view that it's possible to be a prescriptivist and descriptivist simultaneously." Here, he looks at how people can get tripped up on words with unusual plural forms like phenomena.  Continue reading...
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Jonathon Owen is a copy editor and student of linguistics who "holds the paradoxical view that it's possible to be a prescriptivist and descriptivist simultaneously." Here, he investigates the word towards, a favorite target of American editors, who love to lop off that supposedly superfluous -s.  Continue reading...
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