Always was wrong, always will be
The persistence of certain errors, like the spread of kudzu and the zebra mussel, is remarkable but not encouraging. Today, we’ll look at some common irritants.
1. Comprise. Comprise is the box that contains the contents, not the contents themselves. The alphabet comprises 26 letters. The alphabet is composed of 26 letters. The construction is comprised of is always wrong. The word is so frequently and wantonly misused that I have sometimes been tempted to ban it from The Sun. But then some blessed soul on the staff files an article in which it is used correctly.
Gady Epstein and Stephanie Desmon did so in one of their articles on the crab fisheries of Maryland and Asia: “…what is called swimming crab — a category that comprises both the blue crab caught off parts of North and South America and the species caught in Southeast Asia.” When such a sentence comes across the desk, copy editors lean back and sigh in mute gratitude.
2. Crescendo. One of our writers recently described something as “building to a crescendo.” A crescendo is a steady and sustained increase in volume. It is a building to a high point, not the high point itself. Doesn’t anyone take piano lessons any more, or listen to Rossini overtures?
3. Podium. A Web site on public speaking offers the advice “Stand behind the podium, don’t lean on it or slouch behind it.” Crouch, maybe. Apart from the comma-splice run-on, the problem here is that a podium is a platform on which a speaker stands. Podium, from the Greek podion, foot; same root as podiatry. A lectern is the stand on which the speaker rests notes.
4. It’s/its. The failure of many journalists, college graduates who make their living by the written word, to distinguish between the contraction and possessive, A DISTINCTION THAT IS WITHIN THE GRASP OF MANY CHILDREN (Sorry, mustn’t shout), occurs far more frequently than most readers of the paper could imagine.
What misuses make you cry out and fling the paper across the room? (Try to control yourself if you’re reading on a video screen.) Literally? Ironically? Lie and lay? Tell Uncle John.