Monday, May 23, 2016

Once More Unto the Breech!

Gaze upon these solecisms that have actually appeared in magazines and newspapers—publications that I would have thought employed editors schooled in the rudiments of the English language, but apparently do not:

            “A central tenant of the University’s philosophy…”

            “I would of helped if I could of….”

            “The excitement left me unphased….”

            “Put a cube of beef bullion in two cups of water…”

            “I promised to forego chocolate…”

I used to be a copyeditor for a daily newspaper, and believe me, if I had let one of these atrocities see print, I would have been ridiculed mercilessly, and probably hooted off the copy desk, by my colleagues. That was, of course, more than fifty years ago, when copyeditors were expected to be omniscient (reporters, not so much).

It goes without saying, or at least it should, that the correct words in each case are:

            “tenet” – Latin for “he holds,” from tenēre (“hold”), meaning a principle or doctrine generally held to be true.

            “would have…could have…” –  these are known as “past modal” verbs and are followed by a past participle to indicate action that did not take place but was possible.

            “unfazed” –  from Old English fēsian (“drive away”), meaning “disconcert, daunt.”

            “bouillon” – from French boillir (“boil”), meaning a “clear seasoned soup.” Bullion, meaning “gold or silver melted into bars,” is thought to be a conflation of Middle French bille (“ingot”) and Anglo-French buillon (“cauldron”).

            “forgo” –  from Middle English forgān (“pass by”), meaning “do without.” Although forgo should not be confused with forego, meaning “come before,” some dictionaries now throw up their lexical hands in frustration and say, “Go ahead and use the words interchangeably if you like.” Tch, tch.

            There once was a very sad gent
            In the cold, gray light of the dawn:
            His trouble was that he forewent
            When he clearly should have forgone.

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