Additional Word/Language Items

Double negatives and bloat

Tim Magee sent these thoughts along with his PAWs:

'not' when followed by the opposite of what you mean, a popular Britishism which I think has leaked (I apologise on behalf of my nation). I think it became popular when former PM John Major used 'not inconsiderable' in a speech. Even 'considerable' by itself sounds a bit pompous.

I know there are loads more of these, but I think I've become desensitised by decades of reading.

I also think a useful addition to the site would contain phrases which are generally used to create thinking space during speech, because God forbid that you should leave a large enough pause for someone else to get a word in. I have a few to start off. It may be that my examples are also Britishisms, so forgive my parochial outlook if that's the case. On the other hand, I know that the 'never let your gums stop flapping' approach to debate is universal.

'at this moment in time': they mean 'now'
'on no account ...': they mean 'not, 'don't' etc.
'in essence', 'essentially', 'in effect': most often they mean ''

Plurals update

I was talking to Brigid about what you call more than one computer mouse because "mouses" seemed OK for some reason.  I found the following justification at (Note: This link is dead but I like the explanation.  A similar discussion is at  Thanks to Erla Beegle for the correction.)

The plural form of mouse
When words change their referents, or go against their original grain, as you put it, grammar tends to follow the regular patterns of the language, like -s plural endings. This is also why you say 'two walkmans', not walkmen, because a walkman is not a kind of man. A computer mouse is not a kind of rodent either.

Ongoing Perfect Storm Violations (see below)

From George F. Will

The atrocity at School No. 1 in Beslan, Russia -- the worst act of terrorism since Sept. 11 -- was one episode in Russia's 150-year struggle with Chechen separatists and involved a political "perfect storm," the convergence of nationalism, ethnicity and religion.

Usage controversy

This was prompted by the following from Jack Shafer at

This paragraph, the fulcrum upon which the remainder of the article rests, doesn't convince. 

I think it's a really pompous construction.  Here's the summary and my supporting argument, from Cullen Murphy at

Several times a year I am asked to weigh in on ballot questions circulated by the editors, such as...whether transitive verbs can be used intransitively, without direct objects, as in "the Mets amaze" or "the movie excites" (please, no; the trend dismays).

The counterargument is from Jim, who argues as follows:

That is, in fact, correct usage. It is unusual but still proper. "to amaze" is what's called a verbal--infinitives, gerunds, and participles. They can function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. To be more specific, "to amaze" is an infinitive with an implied or understood subject, as in "The Tribe continues to amaze (us, or the fans, etc.) The infinitive phrase "to amaze" is the direct object in this case. Yow!

All of that is fine, but that just means it's grammatically correct.  What I don't like about it is that it attempts to make a writer's opinion universal.  The Mets may amaze you but I may be less impressed.  It's almost like these no-direct-object usages invite an invisible "We all know" in front of them.  Your opinions are your own - try to be secure enough in them to not project them on to everyone else.

A new cliché

Please tell everyone you know that the "Perfect storm" metaphor is completely played out and now only connotes exaggeration and laziness in metaphor usage.  Some background:  
"In October 1991, three weather systems collided off the coast of Nova Scotia to create a storm of singular fury...It was the storm of the century, boasting waves over one hundred feet high a tempest created by so rare a combination of factors that meteorologists deemed it 'the perfect storm.'" 

That's a very good and appealing description.  Unfortunately one runaway bestseller and George Clooney/Marky Mark movie later it's been picked up by breathless and uninspired writers everywhere to give an apocalyptic tone to ordinary crises.  See the examples below.  Better yet don't and save yourself the irritation.,1413,203%257E21481%257E1006518,00..html

It's time to stop the madness!  No more perfect storms!  Spread the word!

Ongoing violations

From is the following:

Like Elvis's, Earnhardt's legend has only grown in death. It's been more than two years since he died in "the perfect crash," as it's called, the grisly combination of speed and angle of impact that killed him.

I figured it was only a matter of time before SARS became a perfect storm.  Scotland rescued me; from

IT IS being called the airline version of The Perfect Storm. The combined effect of the war in the Gulf and the Sars virus looks like it could hit airlines with even greater force than the terrorist attacks on the US of September 11, which caused an unprecedented downturn in aviation.

Richard Cohen gets credit for calling it a cliché but at he still couldn't resist the siren call:

Pardon the cliché, but [Saddam Hussein] is the perfect storm -- a conjunction of forces that the meteorologist in all of us can see coming.

The city of Baltimore may have actually had a perfect storm - most accumulation in a century.  Calling it "the perfect snowstorm" is actually apt.  See for details.

Another perfect storm!  That's three in two weeks.  How does humanity survive it?  Maureen Dowd is this week's violator.  (See

They will understand the Bush rationale for war only if they look at the metaphysical evidence, the perfect storm of imperial schemes and ideological stratagems driving the desire to topple Saddam.

Unfortunately, people who should know better have violated the rule recently.  In the Atlantic Monthly - The Atlantic Monthly! - Ted Halstead writes at

Something very powerful may be brewing - a near perfect political storm.

The campaign continues.  STOP USING THIS!  (Note the bold caps for emphasis.)

Words that should be PAWs that I don't want to include

The second item is two words that are probably PAWs but I don't want to include them in the list.

Word:  Oeuvre 
Synonymous with:  Body of work
Why I don't want to include it:  First, there isn't a commonly understood one-word synonym for it so technically it doesn't belong.  Also it's a word I've never been able to use without an ironic smile; it's so pompous sounding that I can't say it without implicitly acknowledging its pomposity.  For me that deflates it a bit and makes it simply a fun word.

Word:  Milieu 
Synonymous with:  Environment
Why I don't want to include it: It's so obscure almost no one knows it.  I think even most of those who know of it aren't sure what it means.  Therefore you can use it in any context with very little chance someone will call you on it.  ("We had a milieu time."  "That sounds wonderful!")  This makes it an extremely fun word and because of that I'd rather not have it in the list.

Word that might not be a PAW but should be considered

Word:  Callipygian  
Definition (verbatim from a dictionary):  Having well-shaped buttocks.
Example: From Daniel Dyer's 3-Nov-02 Plain Dealer review of Jim Harrison's "Off to the Side": 

At times, he seems like a character in a country song who unashamedly gets blasted, enjoys the services of strippers and hookers, stares brazenly at callipygian women, likes a good fistfight and prefers the privacy of thickets and the company of dogs.

Why I don't want to include it: I don't know if there's a commonly understood one-word synonym for it. 
Why I nominate it anyway:  Does there need to be a commonly understood one-word synonym for it?  For some concepts I think the world is much better of if we stick to slang; well-shaped buttocks belong firmly (har!) in that category.

A new suffix

Word:  -gate
:  A minor controversy that some try to make into a full-blown scandal.
Example:  Well there's Travelgate (remember that?) and more recently Nipplegate.   There's also this from Dahlia Lithwick at

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are holding their breath this week as they await a final report in "Memogate," the dust-up over Senate Democrats' strategy documents lifted by GOP staffers from a shared computer server.