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Is it Really “Alright/All Right?”

As I completed my gym workout,  I spilled water from my bottle onto the floor. There was enough water to make a square yard-sized puddle.

I did my best to sop it up with paper towels, and then I told the woman at the front desk that I spilled water in the stretching area and it’s not completely dry.

Her response: “That’s alright.”

As I walked to my car, I thought, No, it’s not alright, or all right. I made a mess and possibly jeopardized the safety of some other gym patron. If it really was all right (or alright, the adverb form of all right), everything would be all right, and jeopardizing the safety is not all right (or alright).

We use terms, including alright/all right, too casually without considering what the words mean. To make sure, I looked up all right.

It is informal speech meaning, “agreeable, acceptable, or commendable.”

I find it hard to believe that my gym would agree or accept my puddle; similarly, why would I be commended for leaving a puddle? About the only commendable act was my informing the woman that there was a puddle.

The more appropriate response would have been: “Thank you for telling me.”

Once the staff cleaned the puddle, or once it dried, then everything would be alright.

Or all right.

Until next time! Use the right words!


November 15, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Up is Down, Down is Up

Up and down are opposites. Up means, among its many definitions, “in or into  a higher level or position.” Down means, among its many definitions, “toward or in a lower physical position.”

Yet sometimes in usage, they mean the same thing:

up the road/down the road

I’m down for that/I’m up for that

Sign me up for that/Put me down for that

wait up/slow down

beat yourself up/put yourself down

give up/step down

It’s up to you/It’s come down to you

Also, in golf, one gets “up and down” when one needs just two strokes to get one’s golf ball into the hole when the ball is resting around the green or in a greenside bunker.

My daughter suggested most of these, reminding me how sometimes “opposites attract.”

Until next time! Use the right words!

It’s here! My début book, “If You Experience Death, Please Call: And Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language” is available on Amazon for $14.95.  Order here.

May 19, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Did Ducky Get it Right?

Last night, thanks to Netflix, I watched a season 4 episode of “NCIS” in which Dr. Mallard (David McCallum) is asked to describe, in his own words, the difference between ethics and morals.

His response: “The ethical man knows he shouldn’t cheat on his wife, whereas the moral man actually wouldn’t.”

First of all, I doubt those were his words. Rather, they were the words of the episode’s writers, Steven D. Binder (teleplay and story) and Christopher Silber (story).

But what I really wondered was whether ol’ Ducky was using the words right.

Ethic has four definitions, including “a set of moral principles or values” (don’t you just love when definitions show words to be synonymous?). But another definition is “the principles of conduct governing and individual or a group.”

Moral has six definitions (not including the four definitions relating to a story’s lesson), including “of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior; ethical” (another synonym?). But another similar definition is: “conforming to a standard of right behavior.”

The dictionary also has a usage note that says moral implies conformity to established sanctioned codes or accepted notions of right and wrong, such as not committing adultery. Ethic, meanwhile, suggests there is a more difficult or subtle question of right or wrong: You know you’re not supposed to commit adultery, but what if you’re tempted?

I would say the usage is correct. Score one for the vast wasteland of TV!

Until next time! Use the right words!

May 14, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Is it OK to Celebrate a Genocide?

I received an email this weekend from a writer who has a large manuscript about the Armenian Genocide, which happened at the hands of the Ottoman Turks 100 years ago. In the email, the person wrote that the Genocide “is celebrated on its centennial, specially (sic) April 24.”

First, the right word is especially, but that’s not as important as celebrating the Genocide. A Genocide is a most unhappy event, so why would anyone want to celebrate it? Wouldn’t it be better to commemorate it? Commemorate, after all, means “to mark by some ceremony or observance.”

I checked the dictionary. Celebrate means “to perform (as a sacrament or solemn ceremony) publicly and with appropriate rites,” “to honor by solemn ceremonies or by refraining from ordinary business” and “to observe a holiday, perform a religious ceremony, or take part in a festival.”

Other than the part of the third definition relating to a festival, it is acceptable to celebrate such a heinous event.

However …

Commemorate and celebrate list the word keep as a synonym. Keep has 34 definitions, the relevant one here being “to take notice of by appropriate conduct.”

There also is a usage note (italics added) that reads, “Keep stresses the idea of not neglecting or violating.” “Celebrate suggests acknowledging am occasion by festivity.” A genocide is about as far from festive as can be.

The better word is, in fact, commemorate because, as the usage reads, it “suggests that an occasion is marked by observances the remind one of the origin and significance of the day.”

Until next time! Use the right words!

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Keith Olbermann, Another of My Heroes

Lately, I’ve been watching clips of sportscaster/commentator Keith Olbermann on YouTube. I had forgotten just how well he writes (see: his time on SportsCenter). But it was a particular clip dated July 28, 2014, that caught my attention.

Olbermann, in his nightly “Worst Persons In the Sports World” segment on ESPN2, took to task the person(s) who wrote Greg Maddux’s baseball hall of fame plaque. Olbermann credited NBC’s Craig Calcaterra with discovering most of the errors.

Here, first, is the exact text of Gregory Alan Maddux’s plaque (written in all caps because the plaque is written that way):


Olbermann began by pointing out that the first five words lacks a “the,” as in “one of the game’s most consistent…” but he sort of excuses it because the earliest plaques are written in the same style.

He then jumps on using a French term (en route) without italics. His next attack is for “less than 1,000 walks.” It should be “fewer than” because “less” is used for, in his words, “stuff that has no more plurals or can’t be counted like, I have less respect for the guy who writes these plaques.”

Next, he turns his attention to the hyphenated words, part-scientist and part-artist, and he correctly — and forcefully, I believe — points out the hyphens aren’t necessary, and by using them, the words mean that Greg Maddux is a scientist specializing in parts (like the guy down at the local auto parts store) and an artist specializing in parts!

If Keith Olbermann didn’t exist, someone would have invented him. Maybe me.

Until next time! Use the right words!

January 5, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Up” Yours

It’s easy to understand up, meaning “in or into a higher position, especially away from the center of the earth” or “the opposite of down,” but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake up?

At a meeting, why does a topic come up? Why do we speak up, why are the officers up for election, and why is it up to the
secretary to write up a report?

We call up our friends. We use light to brighten up a room, we polish up the silver, we warm up the leftovers and clean up
the kitchen. We lock up the house, and some guys fix up the old car.

At other times the little word has real special meaning. People stir up trouble, line up for tickets, work up an appetite, and think up excuses. To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed up is special.

A drain must be opened up because it is stopped up. We chop the tree down, then chop it up. We open up a store in the morning, but we close it up at night.

We seem to be pretty mixed up about up. To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of up, look up the word up in the dictionary. In my dictionary, it takes up almost one quarter of the page and adds up to about 28 definitions as an adverb, 22 definitions as an adjective, five as a preposition, four as a noun and five as a verb.

If you are up to it, you might try building up a list of the many ways up is used. It will take up a great deal of your time, but if you don’t give up, you may wind up with 100 or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding up. When the sun comes out, we say it is clearing up. When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things up. When it doesn’t rain for awhile, things dry up.

I could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it up for now. My time is up, so it is time to shut up.

Thanks to Warren S. for emailing this up to me. My guess is he found it while looking things up on the Internet.

Until next time! Use the right words!

December 22, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Do You Ship?

I’ve been thinking about my generation’s (Generation X) slang terms. As I recall, we would take already-existing words and change their meanings. Examples: radical, bad, cool.

My daughter’s generation, however, cut words to make new slang terms. Example: relationship has become ship. I don’t know if there should be an apostrophe before the word or not.

It actually makes sense that the millennials would cut words, since they use abbreviations and acronyms all the time (totes, LOL, IMHO, ROFLMAO, etc.)

At least ship is a verb. It’s used in this way: somebody ships somebody else, as in these two people are good for each other, according to their friends.

To me, to ship somebody is to send them somewhere. Like maybe to a word where slang isn’t used this way.

Until next time! Use the right words!

November 18, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Those Confusing Bi- and Semi- Prefixes

I hear people from time to time mention “biweekly meetings” or “semiannual conferences” or something like these. Most of the time, I hear people use the bi- and semi- prefixes correctly about half the time.

I have found that how often people use them correctly depends on the root word. Take biweekly, for example. People understand that bi- refers to two or twice, so people conclude that biweekly means “twice a week.”

They’d be wrong. It means “every two weeks” or “every other week.”

Similarly, people take semiannual and conclude it means “twice a year.” They would be correct. But ask them what semiweekly means and they might tell you “every other week.”

They’d be wrong. It means “twice a week.”

Here’s why: The prefix semi– doesn’t mean “twice” or “two.” It means “half.” Two halves make a whole. Therefore, semiannual means “two times a year” and semiweekly means “two times a week.”

The same applies with -monthlyBimonthly is every other month and semimonthly is twice a month.

Until next time! Use the right words!

November 3, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Set Up the Setup!

Because I don’t subscribe to pay TV channels, I am always behind on the HBO and Showtime shows. I have to wait for them to become available on Netflix. For example, I’m on the 10th episode of Season 4 of “Homeland” — just days before Season 5 premieres.

I bring this up because in a Season 4 episode, it is revealed that Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) have been working together all along. It was a setup.

This perfectly segues into my reminder that so many English words are different parts of speech when spelled differently. Setup is a noun; set up a verb (the definitions of each are too numerous to mention here. Check a dictionary and you’ll see what I mean).

OK? Got it? Good. Just don’t tell me what happens in Season 5.

Until next time! Use the right words!

October 2, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Remember This at Year-End

OK, you’ve got four months to remember this.

In December, when people are looking back on the year that was, see how many times you read the terms year end and year-end.

Only the hyphenated one is correct (I know, the headline gave it away).

If you see year end, keep in mind that by writing it this way, one means that the word year is an adjective describing the word end.

And I’ve never seen an end described as a year. Tight, yes. Split, yes. Year, no.

Until next time! Use the right words!

August 27, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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