Posted by June on July 6, 2015


There are still a lot of people holding on to an old superstition about “hopefully.” Here’s how it goes: “Hopefully,” they say, means “in a hopeful manner.” So it should only be used to describe actions done in this manner.

Emma hopefully mailed out ten resumes.

Hopefully, John dialed Marcia’s number.

Therefore, the idea goes, it can’t be used as a sentence adverb to mean “I hope” or “It is to be hoped that.”

Hopefully, it will rain tomorrow, in this view, is nonsense because rain can’t fall in a hopeful manner.

If this seems ridiculous, that’s because it is. The so-called correct use -- Emma hopefully mailed out ten resumes -- is almost nonexistent. By far the most common way it’s used is as a sentence adverb to mean “I hope” or the like. And yes, common use counts. Remember: that’s where correctness comes from in the first place.

But even if you don’t like that idea, there’s a better reason you can use hopefully to mean “I hope”: The dictionary. Look up "hopefully" in just about any dictionary, modern or old, and you'll see that one of its definitions is "it is to be hoped that."


'Baited' Breath
Posted by June on June 29, 2015


A recent Google search for the term “baited breath” turned up 431,000 hits, including this headline at CNBC. Fascinating. This means one of two things: Either the people who wrote this term didn’t know how to spell it or a whole bunch of people have been eating night crawlers.

OK, that may be a wee bit unfair. Perhaps we shouldn’t be harsh on people for not knowing a word that, outside of one rare expression, hardly even exists: “bated” (unless you live in the world depicted in the movie “Idiocracy,” in which case we’ve moved on to a whole different subject).

But if you note the similarity to the word “abate,” meaning to put an end to something, you’re off on the right foot.

To say that you waited with bated breath means that the anticipation was so intense that you stopped breathing. Stopped, like in abated. That’s the root of the term.

The fact that this expression is so often paired with the verb “wait” -- he waited with bated -- makes it even easier to get it wrong by just repeating the vowel pattern to get "baited." Do a Google search for “sneak peak” and you’ll see what I mean.

So just remember, bated breath is stopped breath because you’ve abated it. That’s why, with “baited breath,” something always smells fishy.

AOL: Rupert Murdoch Hands Over 'Reigns'
Posted by June on June 22, 2015


Recently, when Rupert Murdoch announced he'd be handing the reins of Fox over to his sons, AOL ran the headline “Rupert Murdoch plans to hand over Fox reigns to sons.”

It prompted a discussion with a fellow editor: Could the AOL headline writers argue that this was not an error? That is, could they really have meant “reigns” instead of “reins”?

Reins, as you surely know, are the parts of a horse’s bridle the rider uses to control the horse. When we talk about “handing over the reins,” it’s a reference to these reins and means to hand over steerage or control.

Reign is often a verb meaning to rule. When someone reigns supreme -- holds the most power anyone can have -- this is the “reign” we mean. Reign can also be a noun. When we refer to a king’s reign, we mean his rule, as in, “King George’s reign over his people was absolute.”

So if you, like AOL, talk about handing one of these two things over, the standard idiom calls for reins. But in theory, you could also hand over your reign. If you reign over something and you hand that off to someone else, technically, that’s what you’re doing.

But did Murdoch hand over “reigns,” plural?  In order to do so, he would need to have more than one reign -- like his reign over Fox Broadcasting and his reign over 20th Century Fox.

But, come on. To me, the focus of the news item was on his reign, singular, over all the subsidiaries of Fox. There was no reason to focus on individual units within the larger organization. So common sense dictates that the word “reins” was required in AOL’s headline. “Reigns,” by any reasonable assessment, was an error.


Spot the Correction
Posted by June on June 15, 2015


Can you guess the edit I made to the following sentence?

According to the Humane Society of the United States, from 2012-13 an estimated 3 million to 4 million cats and dogs were adopted from shelters nationwide.

First off, let me say I was impressed that the writer put in the word “million” after “3.” When we speak, we say “three to four million.” But on paper, that could theoretically be construed to mean a range of single digit number, which means it could be any of 3,999,997 possible numbers. So it’s often good policy to just go ahead and write “3 million to 4 million.”

The change I made had nothing to do with that. The issue I thought needed fixing was “from 2012 13.” And it’s not just because I dislike dashes and hyphens in ranges. That is, when I see “The restaurant is open 3-5 p.m., I always change the dash or hyphen to “to,” just because I work in a world where real words are considered preferable to symbols standing in for words – at least in running text. It’s the same reason you’ll never see “The president & the senator met Tuesday.” In professional publishing, ampersands are not considered interchangeable with the word “and.” And because they’re shunned in publications that help set the standard for professional writing, they look unprofessional.

But 2012-13 is, in fact, appropriate form sometimes. When you’re talking about the 2012-13 school year, a lot of publications would have no problem writing it that way. There are a lot of other situations in which it might be appropriate, too. So that’s not why I changed it.

The real problem with “from 2012-13” is all about the “from.” The word “from” in this case requires a “to.” And not only was there no explicit “to” in the original wording. But there was when I was done with it:

... from 2012 to 2013 ...