Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Barbara Wallraff edition

Barbara Wallraff filled in for William Safire in his "On Language" column last week. She uses the space to plead that we get to know our dictionaries better -- even when they sometimes let us down:
The great majority of America's copy editors would go along with the hyphenation in both of these sentences: "An up-to-date dictionary is up to date" and "A far-fetched theory is far-fetched." (Don't believe me? Use Google News to check my work.) But five of the dictionaries present "up-to-date" and "far-fetched" only as hyphenated compound adjectives. They may note, somewhere, that hyphens aren't used in certain adjectival compounds unless these directly precede a noun, but they're vague about which hyphens to take out. The Collegiate says about compound words in general, "It is often completely acceptable to choose freely among open, hyphenated and closed alternatives (as lifestyle, life-style or life style)." Hey, thanks a lot!
And Atlantic Monthly subscribers can find her latest "Word Fugitive" column here.

To make our Wallraff edition complete, check out her Free the Peeves site, which adds a quiz every week. Find out if you're imposing changes because they're necessary or because you have a pet peeve. What do you think of this statement:
"When describing people who hope their actions will result in good being done, it is said they are well intentioned. Shouldn't the word be intended? Isn't well an adverb? Intention is a noun. Intend is a verb. Nouns have no past tense!"


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