December 11, 2017


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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.

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Pleaded vs. Pled
Posted by June on December 11, 2017
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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

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    June A.S.: Everything you said is right, but I'm not sure which comment you're directing it at. Are you getting confused by passive voice as it comes into play in these sentences? "I called him" uses the object pronoun "him" because, as you said, is an object. When you invert that sentence to say "He was called," it's not the same sentence structure. In passive voice, the object of the action (so to speak) is made the grammatical subject of the sentence. So "He was called" does, as you said, required the subject pronoun "he." I don't believe anyone said anything to the contrary.

  • 'Whom' vs. 'Who' at the Beginning of a Sentence

    A.S. WRONG! If "Whom was called into the office" is a question then it's the equivalent of asking "Him was called into the office?" which is obviously wrong. If it's a statement it's still wrong. Look, it's not difficult: Me, him, her, them and whom are objects. I, he, she, they and who are subjects. If the person in the sample sentence is the object (as indicated by "whom") then the office must be the subject but there's no verb for the subject, so the person must be the subject and is therefore who. Understand?

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    June Punctuation rules for American English are indeed "always" put the period or comma before the closing quote mark. British style is as you described (that is, it follows a certain logic). But American rules are rooted in a printing convention that originated from aesthetics concerns. I'm quite confident that this American convention will go the way of the dinosaur. Wikipedia is proof: Their style is situational in the way you described. But for now, it's the rule: The comma always goes "inside," as does a "period."

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    June Oops. Fixing now. (Better late than never.)

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    JR "An" Not-So-Thrilling Typo?