Following Up:

Friday, June 22, 2007

Civil Unions vs. Partnership
William Eskridge, John A. Garver professor of Jurisprudence at Yale and co-author with Darren Spedale of Gay Marriage: For Better or for Worse? (Oxford University Press, 2006), follows up on the New York Assembly's passage of the same sex marriage bill, and New Jersey's commission studying civil unions.

Crack vs. Cocaine
Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing laws and alternatives to incarceration, talks about the disparaties in cocaine sentencing practices.

100 Words
Steve Kleinedler, supervising editor at American Heritage, talks about the 100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses and Misuses (Houghton Mifflin, 2004).

100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses and Misuses is available for purchase at


William Eskridge, Steve Kleinedler and Marc Mauer

Comments [51]

Mr. Harry S. Hemrick from nyc, bronx

Your subway travel/airport, etc. guest today, 9 Nov Fri, 11:40, is unaware that the Q44 bus from the east Bronx goes over the Whitestone Br. to Jamaica where you connect to the Airtrain to JFK.

(note: I called three times and each time got in on the line where you (M.Goldenson) were talking to the (irate) subway conductor; could not connect to station to talk

Nov. 09 2007 12:05 PM
MThorne from Brooklyn, NY

Brian: My comment is about a call you received in reaction to the Civil Unions vs. Partnership piece today. A caller from Teaneck believed you might have been a bit flip when you half-joked about Jersey civil union couples wanting to hop on Amtrak to travel to Vermont to have their babies. The caller rather eloquently stated that GLBT people of little means [i.e. not the well-heeled types who’ve been framing this issue to date] barely have time to be that concerned about the ‘marriage’ debate when they’re busy surviving in the face of the classist / racist and economic discrimination and difficulties that they have always had to contend with. In a statement which I think is kind of out of character for you, you offered that GLBT people might not be best served by presenting exclusively this serious side of the plight of GLBT partners – the implication that this might be a turn-off for straights or other powers-that-be, one wonders?

I’m writing to cheer on the woman from Teaneck and to ask if your reaction means you view the gay marriage issue as one in which the majority (straight) traditionalists have to be cajoled into 'doling out' a benefit to the oppressed? Our suffering is real (and unfortunately not unique)… and perhaps hard to grasp by someone who has never had his right to marry questioned. I’d say your reaction to this caller in particular was not up to your usual standards, Brian, but I do wholeheartedly appreciate you and the program’s staff and guests providing the opportunity to discuss the topic rationally.

Jun. 22 2007 09:00 PM
Jeff from Brooklyn, NY

As a musician I find it depressing that many even quite fine writers will use the expression "to reach a crescendo." No one who has had any elementary musical training would say that; "crescendo" literally means "growing" in Italian and is the standard musical instruction for "getting louder." "To reach a crescendo" means in effect "to reach a reaching." That this is accepted usage is as clear a sign as any that we need more music education!

Jun. 22 2007 06:39 PM
Jessy from Manhattan

The use of the word "parochial". I have heard it used to mean central, essential, broad and factual information or ideas, in the context of science way too many times.

Jun. 22 2007 05:38 PM
Patricia Newkirk from New York City

How did the repetition of the word "is" enter our speech so quickly and completely? Even public speakers will say: "The reason is, is that ..." How did this occur? And I wonder why?

Jun. 22 2007 04:40 PM
Patricia from New York City

The repetition of the word "is" permeated speech so suddenly it was frightening! Even public speakers will say "the reason is, is that ..." Does anyone know why that entered the language?

Jun. 22 2007 04:36 PM
ESL from san francisco

I love that english is a living langauge that is capable of evolving. Words change over time due to common usage. Poets, writers, artists and politicians can use language creatively and the masses either reject it or it becomes part of the lexicon. See NJ_Cher's post regarding the usuage of myriad.

Two of my favorites include "truthiness" and "sexy time". Dislike "Gi-normous" and "Democrat Party".

Hey, Word Police. Language is for communicating, not winning prizes on "Sez You". Moving on.

Jun. 22 2007 03:41 PM
Peg B from NY, NY

Mute point instead of moot point.
Data used as a singular.


Jun. 22 2007 02:46 PM
Bill Turner from 100 Words

Brian--One word your guest used (or maybe misused) that merits a comment is HIGHFALUTIN. Most users pronounce this word HIGHFALUTING. Ironically--considering the word's meaning--users seem to think the correct pronunciation sounds like hillbilly-talk, so they get pretensious and add the improper final G to sound "correct."

Jun. 22 2007 02:12 PM
Rachel from Plainview, NY

to harry: Yes, I meant to write, "could care less" (incorrect) vs. "couldn't care less" ;)

Jun. 22 2007 12:49 PM
NJ_Cher from West Orange, NJ

Re "myriad:"

Here is a usage note from

Usage Note: Throughout most of its history in English myriad was used as a noun, as in a myriad of men. In the 19th century it began to be used in poetry as an adjective, as in myriad men. Both usages in English are acceptable, as in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Myriad myriads of lives." This poetic, adjectival use became so well entrenched generally that many people came to consider it as the only correct use. In fact, both uses in English are parallel with those of the original ancient Greek. The Greek word mūrias, from which myriad derives, could be used as either a noun or an adjective, but the noun mūrias was used in general prose and in mathematics while the adjective mūrias was used only in poetry.

Jun. 22 2007 12:38 PM

What about the word ORGANIC. We are told that organic fruits are better for us than regular fruits, but aren't all fruits organic if they are fruits-they are natural-grown from the earth, even if a farmer uses pesticides to keep away bugs the apple tree still grows out of the earth, therefore the apple is organic. They should just say the damn apple is pesticide free and stop using the word organic. Now word organic has taken on a different meaning.

Jun. 22 2007 12:15 PM
Abigail from Brooklyn

The use of the word, legendary, perplexes me. I thought legendary referred to someone who might or might not have ever been a real person, but who has become almost mythic. People like Robin Hood and King Arthur come to mind. Legendary, however, seems to be used constantly to describe contemporary figures from popular culture. Is the word being misused, or has there been a meaning change to mean something like both famous and admired.

Jun. 22 2007 12:10 PM
Steve Kleinedler from Boston

Thanks everyone!

We'll be researching "bemused." You're right -- language shifts and changes, and it's our duty as lexicographers to account for these shifts in language.

Specific comments regarding most of the above questions can be found in Usage Notes accompanying the definitions in the American Heritage Dictionary.

-- Steve

Jun. 22 2007 12:08 PM
Liz from Kings Point

Is golf now a verb instead of a noun? It seems to be common usage to make golf a verb. For example many people say the following.

"Do you golf?"

I always thought that one played the game of golf. I have not had the experience of being asked if I tennis, but perhaps that is coming soon to a conversation near me.

Jun. 22 2007 12:02 PM
Walter Oliver from New Jersey

Really a phrase, not so much a word, my pet peeve is when someone says something like:

"Everyone is not stupid"

when they mean to say:

"Not everyone is stupid"

Are both structures acceptable?

Jun. 22 2007 11:58 AM
Harry from nyc

to Rachel ; "couldn't care less" is correct ; you mean "could care less" annoys you?

Jun. 22 2007 11:58 AM
Shanti from Manhattan

I hate it when people use "orientate" instead of "orient," as in "to orient yourself to your environment."

Also, I always thought that "momentarily" meant "for a moment" not "in a moment." Are they both correct?

Jun. 22 2007 11:57 AM
Tammy Cross from Morris Plains, NJ

Thanks so much for bringing up 'between you and I' - I hear the incorrect use of the nominative case consistently - including use by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

I would love you to explain the correct use of 'whom', especially in subordinate clauses - get rid of the confusion for us all!

Jun. 22 2007 11:56 AM
Elizabeth Cohen from Manhattan

honed in vs. homed in

in lieu of vs. in light of


Jun. 22 2007 11:56 AM
Harry from nyc

peruse ; read THOUOUGHLY, NOT SCAN

Jun. 22 2007 11:56 AM
Jennifer from Manhattan

I avoid using the word "forte" because everyone always tries to correct me. According to dictionaries, it should be pronounced "fort," however almost everyone I know thinks it should be pronounced "for-tay" - even after I send them dictionary links.

Jun. 22 2007 11:55 AM
Elizabeth Cohen from Manhattan

favorite mistakes:

honed in vs. homed in

in lieu of when they mean in light of


irregardless - not a word

Jun. 22 2007 11:54 AM

I fear the battle is already lost, but the word "comprise" has been rendered almost valueless by being constantly misused as a synonym for "compose."

I don't usually get too bothered about these things, but the complementarity of "comprise" vs. "compose" was a useful thing, and is lost by the misuse of "comprise."

Jun. 22 2007 11:54 AM
Eileen Burnash from Bernardsville, NJ

Democrat Party. I think this is a Carl Rove-ism to diminish the implication that the Democratic party is democratic (little d). The current President only used the term, the Democratic Party after last year's Congressional election, and that was when a reporter was brave enough to correct him. Since then, he has reverted to The Democrat Party. It's successful, because whenever I hear Democrat used this way or read it, I get soooo mad! It's so irritating. Republic Party should be used in retaliation!

Jun. 22 2007 11:54 AM
Liz Hollander from Queens

As a freshman Composition teacher for ten years, I have found "then" for "than" to be a new solecism, and very puzzling. Also alarming.

Jun. 22 2007 11:53 AM
Simon Theodore from NYC

Wean vs. Suckle.

Too many times we see "wean" to mean "suckled" -- as in "I was weaned on Mother's Milk."

No, you were suckled on it.

Enough !

Jun. 22 2007 11:53 AM
PTL from NYC

Insure vs Ensure: I have an English background, and grew up believing that insure was something that involved a policy. Ensure, on the other hand, was to make certain that something happened.

Does American English only use Insure for both meanings?

Jun. 22 2007 11:53 AM
Jesse Lerner from nyc

ever notice that people always, always say "for all intensive purposes"?

Jun. 22 2007 11:52 AM
Lorenzo from NY

Impact is also a verb

Jun. 22 2007 11:52 AM
sps from Brooklyn

The perennial favorite for misuse is "ironic." Ironic has become almost synonymous with "coincidence" if I go by the people I talk to.

If I eventually teach English, I want to have a tape of Stephen Colbert's Washington correspondents dinner speech, which to me was an amazing use of dramatic irony.

Jun. 22 2007 11:50 AM
Robert Colasacco from NYC

What about lend/loan. It just drives me up the wall when someone says "I loaned him $5." I learned that loan is a noun and lend is the verb: "I lent him $5". You lend someone something thus you've given them a loan. I may be outdated here and the change may have just become accepted as do many changes in language but I was wondering if this rule is still the case.

Jun. 22 2007 11:50 AM
Julie from Newark, NJ

I get frustrated (and sometimes amused) when I hear people using the word "nauseous" to mean "nauseated" (although I understand that the American Heritage Usage Panel is now 68% against me on this one...).

Jun. 22 2007 11:49 AM
Chris Brown

I did not know about the correct definition of "bemuse." I have always thought it meant "to amuse." So that's interesting. But, if the vast majority uses a word in a particular sense, does that not mean that the definition of the word has changed, despite the protestations of solitary linguists?

Jun. 22 2007 11:49 AM
Andy from Rockland County

I hear this mistake used by politicians all the time: disinterested vs. uninterested

Jun. 22 2007 11:48 AM
Rebecca from Astoria, NY

"Democrat party"- Pres. Bush and many other Republicans like to use this expression, always in a derogatory tone...

And I have a co-worker who confuses "reprehensive" and "apprehensive," as in "They are reprehensive about allowing us access to the program"

Jun. 22 2007 11:48 AM
Edy from Stamford, CT

lend me vs borrow me
it bothers me when i hear "borrow me"

Jun. 22 2007 11:48 AM
Linda from New York, NY

The word "virtual," misused to mean "almost."

The use of "oftentimes," which is not a word, when "often" is a fine word to use.

Jun. 22 2007 11:47 AM
Kathy from Parsippany, NJ

How about 'affect' and effect'. I get confused with these words.


Jun. 22 2007 11:46 AM
Amy from Upper East Side

People often use the phrase 'exact same'; when either exact or same would suffice
its either redundant or incorrect! Example: 'I have the exact same shoes'

Jun. 22 2007 11:46 AM
Tim Stammers from NYC


Yuk. If you really means center, then just use the word center. If you want to sound clever, go and look up the meaning of epi-center.

Jun. 22 2007 11:46 AM
Patrick F. from Manhattan

enormous: in it's true sense it is large, but heinous.

less vs. fewer.

irregardless - not a word

Jun. 22 2007 11:44 AM
jamie beth from manhattan

politically speaking:
not really "pro" anything, really just anti-abortion, anti-choice and anti-woman.
also not my favorite, how about pro-woman instead?

Jun. 22 2007 11:44 AM
Laura from NJ


Impact is not a verb. You can make an impact, but you can't impact anything. Even Edwards misused it in a clip used on your show this morning.

Jun. 22 2007 11:44 AM

hillary clinton pushed through WHAT?

Jun. 22 2007 11:20 AM
Greg from NY

I have to mention one of the most obvious ones: whom. Is it really that diffcult to use correctly?

Jun. 22 2007 10:53 AM

But my Merriam-Webster says:
But myriad is a noun, according to Merriam-Webster:

"Recent criticism of the use of myriad as a noun, both in the plural form myriads and in the phrase a myriad of, seems to reflect a mistaken belief that the word was originally and is still properly only an adjective. As the entries here show, however, the noun is in fact the older form, dating to the 16th century. The noun myriad has appeared in the works of such writers as Milton (plural myriads) and Thoreau (a myriad of), and it continues to occur frequently in reputable English. There is no reason to avoid it."

Jun. 22 2007 10:50 AM
Mike Choi from Northern New Jersey

"As per" gets my dander up. Not only is it overused corporate-speak (like "proactive," ugh), but my middle-school English classes and my three years of Latin in high school tell me it should be simply "per" anyway. The tragedy of the fastidious nerd, alas.

Jun. 22 2007 10:36 AM

How about how we use the word "decimate" today? From "Decimate originally referred to the killing of every tenth person, a punishment used in the Roman army for mutinous legions." So, using this meaning today, if you said, "The army was decimated," it's not so bad. Only one person out of ten was killed.

Jun. 22 2007 10:34 AM
James Harvey from Brooklyn

My favorites are the ones that people use to sound more intelligent, end up misusing and thereby sounding dumber. My favorite examples are "bemused" which means "confused" being used to mean "amused", which it doesn't even come close to meaning. Another is "reticent" used as a synonym for "reluctant", when in fact, it means either simply quiet by nature or unwilling to speak. It does not mean unwilling to act or acting unwillingly.

To piggyback on Rachel's contibution above, I have also heard "myriad" used with an indefinite article, as in "a myriad of ways."

Jun. 22 2007 09:26 AM
Rachel from Plainview, NY

These are not my personal misused words/phrases but I hear them often enough to irk me:

1) It begs the question.
2) myriad (myriad ways vs. myriad of ways)
3) peruse
4) nonplussed
5) couldn't care less
6) venal vs. venial

By the way, I was at the Edwards event. You did a great job. Did Senator Edwards have prior knowledge of any of your questions? Just curious...

Jun. 22 2007 01:12 AM

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