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Tell me where it hurts.

The scattered readers of these postings have begun to respond to the invitation to air their peeves.

Mike Livingston writes: I'm still not happy with "e-mail" as a countable noun. As one of my favorite house stylesheets put it, ‘You cannot send an e-mail any more than you can send a mail.’ You can send e-mail. You can send an e-mail message. You can e-mail a message. But you cannot send an e-mail.

Even Bill Walsh has softened on that point. Am I the last one standing?

Run up the white flag. Merriam-Webster and a number of online references list both senses of the word, and it appears to have been broadly accepted. Even e-mail as a verb (Ick.) has become commonplace.

The style sheet you mention reasons by analogy to mail, but analogies in English usage are slippery. There are other words that can have a collective and a singular sense. For example, talk can mean conversation, but one can give a talk.

A digression here. In checking the OED, which does not yet have an entry for e-mail as a message, I came across an 1877 citation for email, "a process which consists in flooding colored but transparent glasses over designs stamped in the body of earthenware or porcelain."

Cassidy writes: Here are some peeves past and present from various folks on my copy desk:

impact (should be effect or affect)

over (should be more than)

accident (should be wreck, crash, collision)

wreck (should be crash, collision)

over (should be during, as in "during the weekend")

My personal peeve is "over" to mean "more than." It's probably a losing battle, but I keep fighting.

Impact is still identified so strongly with pretentious bureaucratic writing that it should be shunned.

The distinction between wreck and accident or collision eludes me. It doesn’t appear in any of the usage manuals I regularly consult and appears to be someone’s idiosyncratic preference. I’d be interested in hearing the reasoning for it. As for collision, R.W. Burchfield says that there is no foundation for the belief, expressed in the AP Stylebook and some other authorities, that it can only be applied when two objects in motion strike each other. "A car can collide with a tree, a bollard, or any other fixed object, as well as with another moving vehicle," he says in The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage. He does, however, prefer hit.

Over for more than is a common usage, and the rule against it is a shibboleth.

Dan writes: Ah. a place to vent. My pet peeves:

Both (If the two people or items are listed, you don't need it)

Redundant phrases (ATM machine, hearken back, join with...)

Reply: What most vexes me is the execrable safe haven.

Watch out for hearken back, which is not a pleonasm but an error. Hearken means to attend to or heed. Hark back is the expression that means to be reminiscent of.

Alison Parker writes: I kept fighting to allow over for "more than." I also stood for "hark back."

You are fighting the good fight.

Posted by John McIntyre at 12:26 PM | | Comments (8)


I am surely the last one left standing against "outage," coined by what people now call the electricity companies as a substitute for "shutdown," "cutoff," "blackout," or, God forbid, "failure," as in "power failure."

That this piece of self-interested bureaucratese has survived 40 years while the lovely, evocative, Shakespearean cliche "sea change," for what they now call a radical restructuring, has vanished, is a great pity (what we called a bummer 30 years ago).

I give up on "an e-mail," but the distinction between "accident" and "collision" is not trivial. "Accident" implies that the event could not have been foreseen or prevented, and that's rarely the case. "Collision" is objective; "accident" is always debatable.

For those who haven't seen it before, I have a whole page of peeves collected over the past 10 years -- the Banned For Life list at

Power outage
potentially (anything)

Since, as you say, "an e-mail" seems to have become accepted, could you address the inevitable outcome: that people then refer to the plural "he sent e-mails to the others" rather than the collective "he sent e-mail to the others"? Is "e-mails" also becoming acceptable?

My current pet peeve is Weapons of Mass Destruction. This phrase has become so ubiquitous that many are incapable of using the word "weapon" without it's companions any more. This is especially true for TV reports but I've seen it in print too.
Let's be straight. My dictionary says a mass is 1. a large group 2. a throng. Even when used to mean a large group, mass generally implies a very large group, more than a dozen or two.
Therefore, a bomb is a WMD and a really rabid virus that was loosed intentionally could be a WMD. A gun is not. A gun can be a weapon of multiple - but rarely mass - destruction. A tornado is also not a WMD.
Mean what you say, say what you mean.

I recently discovered a word that drives my boyfriend's
father (a technical editor/translator) up the wall when
Now I casually said something about a ''famous quote''
and instantly his facial expression contorted into one of
such pain.


I thought I would be banned from entering their home again!
Is this a common source of pain among those of you who
write/edit for a living?
And if it is being misused left, right and center, do you see
it becoming correct any time soon?

E-mail is here to stay, unfortunately, but a newspaper should not allow use of e-mails as a collective noun, unless it accepts advertisings. And while we're on the topic of collective nouns, what happened to good old behavior. Behaviors is an infection of the language tracable to academic writing--or should I say--writings.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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