December 11, 2017
EnormityTOPICS: COPY EDITING, enormity, GRAMMAR, WORD CHOICE, WORD USAGE
True errors using the word "enormity" are rare. But there's a difference between using a word correctly and using it well. Sticklers disapprove of using "enormity" to mean "enormousness" or anything to do with size, for that matter. Instead, they prefer its stricter definition, "an outrageous, improper, vicious, or immoral act." That is, if you're playing it safe, "enormity" refers not to size but to wickedness. You can make your own choices. Here's what you need to know.
Click player above to listen to the podcast
Pleaded vs. PledPosted by June on December 11, 2017
LABELS: ben zimmer, GRAMMAR, john dowd, plead pled
Recently, there was some speculation about the authorship of a Donald Trump tweet that hinged on the use of the past tense "pled." Trump's account had tweeted the former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had "pled" guilty of lying to the FBI. Fearing the tweet amounted to an admission of obstruction of justice, Trump's lawyer John Dowd claimed responsibility for the tweet.
Some observers weren't buying it. The word "pleaded" seemed more lawyerly, they argued, and therefore "pled" could not have been written by an attorney.
"Pled" is actually a longtime peeve of mine. Years ago, I looked it up to prove that its users were wrong. Of course, I was the one who was wrong. "Pled" and "pleaded" are both acceptable past-tense forms of the verb "to plead."
But that's general usage. It's quite possible that, within their own close-knit profession, lawyers have their own standards and official or unofficial preferences for forming the past tense of "plead."
So what's their verdict? As linguist Ben Zimmer showed in a recent piece for the Atlantic, you can't spot a lawyer by his use of "pled."
June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more
The Best Punctuation Book, Period
A Comprehensive Guide for Every Writer, Editor, Student, and Businessperson
The most comprehensive punctuation guide ever, “The Best Punctuation Book, Period” doesn’t just cover the basic rules. It delves into gray areas of punctuation left unclear by the other rule books, showing how the rules differ in four different editing styles. There's also an A to Z reference of commonly mispunctuated terms. more
Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies
A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite
What do suicidal pandas, doped-up rock stars, and a naked Pamela Anderson have in common? They’re all a heck of a lot more interesting than reading about predicate nominatives and hyphens. June Casagrande knows this and has invented a whole new twist on the grammar book. more
Mortal Syntax takes on the 101 most frequently attacked usage choices. Dedicating one short chapter to each, Casagrande brings her subject to life, teaching English usage through lively and amusing personal anecdotes. more
It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences
Your story may be brilliant. Your insights may be groundbreaking. Your characters may be so real you can almost touch them. But they're not worth a thing if you can't bring them to life in well-written sentences. more