More sins against the English language (in my book, anyway)

First, just to be totally fair, I’ll pick on my own newspaper a bit. Just this morning, it reported that the University of South Carolina student newspaper “will cut the amount of days it prints in half.”

If you don’t know what’s wrong with that, here’s an explanation of the difference between “amount” and “number.” On second thought, don’t use that explanation, because it ends with “In any case, it’s always safer to use number in situations like this,” when it clearly should have said “… situations such as this.” So consult this explanation instead.

The paper also had a headline over the weekend that said “Black S.C. students suspended, expelled three times more often than whites,” when clearly, based on the numbers I saw, it should have said “three times as often…” I realize the “more” usage has become quite common, but it doesn’t work mathematically, or as clear and logical English.

But that’s not what’s got me worked up today. I’m writing because of an interview I heard this morning on The Takeaway with Robin Wright. No, not that Robin Wright, whom I might have excused. No, this one is a distinguished fellow with the Woodrow Wilson Center International Center for Scholars, so I expect more than I do from a professionally beautiful actress.

She was talking about this country’s relationship with longtime ally Saudi Arabia, which has been rather frosty of late.

The other Robin Wright.

The other Robin Wright.

First, she said, “… the greater independence of the us oil market has impacted obviously the dependence the United States has on imported oil, and that of course was the foundation of that relationship.”

No, it hasn’t. Because “impact” is not a verb. But you know what? Even if you fix that by substituting “affected,” that’s a really awkward sentence. Not Yoda awkward, but bordering on it. It’s sort of hard to believe this person was a journalist before going all academic.

Then she said, “Well, Saudi Arabia clearly feels that Yemen’s future will impact whatever happens inside Saudi Arabia…”

Ow! You just hit me again on that same sore spot! It’s like that time I was sparring in kickboxing class and my opponent broke four of my ribs in the first round. Of course, being an incredibly tough guy, I fought on, and then the guy hit me in the same spot in the third round, and I briefly dropped to one knee before getting up and continuing…

Sorry. I just like telling that story. I feel like it makes up for wimpy behavior in so many other situations in my life…

But you know what? Lots of people use “impact” as a verb, which is why I’m in such a constant state of dudgeon. And you know why I hate it so? Because it’s jargon-y and people think it makes them sound very official and knowledgeable, as thought they too are distinguished fellows at some think tank.

So that’s not what prompted me to write this post. What got me going was that later, Ms. Wright said this with regard to the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran. She said that the United States…

…wants Saudi Arabia first of all to embrace the Iran deal more fulsomely that it has in the past…

Yes, she did. I went back and listened to it over a couple of times, and she did say “fulsomely” when I’m 99 percent certain that she meant “fully.” (She says it 3 minutes and 38 seconds into the interview.)

Now, it is possible to say “fulsome” and mean “encompassing all aspects, completely” — in fact, this definition illustrates that by saying, “a fulsome survey of the political situation in Central America,” which suggests that perhaps this sense is popular in foreign policy circles.

But to most people on the planet who speak English and are familiar with the word “fulsome,” what she said was that she wanted the Saudis to embrace the Iran deal in a manner that isoffensive to good taste, especially as being excessive; overdone or gross…” “disgusting; sickening; repulsive…” “excessively or insincerely lavish.”

Such embraces are common enough in the world of diplomacy, but I don’t think that’s what we really want from the Saudis in this case.

7 thoughts on “More sins against the English language (in my book, anyway)

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    I sort of regret saying “Not Yoda awkward, but bordering on it.” That’s a disservice to Yoda, whose awkward manner of speech has a certain archaic elegance to it…

  2. Kathleen

    My ears shut down when I heard that first impact, so I missed most of what followed. Thank you for pointing out the fulsome embrace. It gave me the silly giggles and lowered my level of dudgeon.

  3. Norm Ivey

    Thou doth protest too much, methinks.

    Language changes. Deal with it. Impact is a verb if we choose to use it that way. Or like that. Or as such.

    Everybody using fulsome in their comments has got me feeling the fulsome prison blues.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      “Language changes. Deal with it. Impact is a verb if we choose to use it that way.”

      Picture Brad standing athwart an Oxford English Dictionary yelling “STOP!


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