August 24, 2015

Existential 'There'



Ever ponder the difference between a sentence like "A cat was howling in the alley" and "There was a cat howling in the alley"? It's called "existential there."

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Getting One's Fix
Posted by June on August 24, 2015

Here’s a weird thing I often have to fix. See if you can spot it in this passage.

The amusement park offers many adrenalin-pumping rides, from the death-defying Zipper to the classic flume, complete with splash landing.

See anything there you’d fix?

If not, don’t feel bad. It’s an odd one. It’s “adrenalin.” I change that to “adrenaline.”  In the dictionary I must follow in most of my editing work, Webster’s New World College Dictionary, “adrenalin” used in this sense isn’t strictly an error. But it is inferior to “adrenaline.”

Why? Because, according to Webster’s, the spelling that ends with an N is a trade name for epinephrine. It starts with a capital letter: Adrenalin.

The term that ends in E is usually the correct generic term for the hormone that gives you a rush on a roller-coaster or a boost of strength when you’re in real danger. The definition leaves a little room for debate, however. It says that the generic term is USUALLY spelled “adrenaline.” So you could interpret that to mean that the alternative is another, albeit less popular, correct spelling. But me, I go follow the dictionary’s cue and stick with “adrenaline.”

Merriam-Webster’s, by the way, isn’t as flexible. In that dictionary, “Adrenalin” is always a trade name and always starts with a capital letter. The one that ends with an e, “adrenaline,” is the generic term.


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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