July 30, 2009
Language Tips: Renown or renowned & wait on or wait for
Tip 1: Renown or renowned
When reviewing a proposal recently, I came across this:
‘My primary mentor is a world reknown expert in…’
Oh dear. This was a terrible moment for me. My heart started thumping madly; sweat beaded on my forehead; I could not feel my feet; the room began to spin…okay, a small exaggeration maybe, but still, it was a dreadful moment.
What’s wrong with the statement? Well, first, while we associate the word ‘ know’ or ‘known’ with ‘renown,’ there is really no such word as ‘reknown.’ So, delete the ‘k.’ There is no ‘k’ in renown! For that matter, there is no ‘u’ in renown either. ‘Renoun’ is not a word.
So problem solved, right? Well, not so much.
‘Renown’ is a noun, meaning ‘fame’ and cannot be used as an adjective. The correct form to use in our example is ‘renowned’ which is an adjective.
So problem solved, right? Well, almost but not quite.
‘World’ is used, in the example, as an adjective modifying ‘renowned’ (I am using the correct spelling now). Because it is modifying another adjective rather than a noun, it creates a compound adjective with ‘renowned.’ And we all know that compound adjectives should be hyphenated. So the correct wording which would have saved my mental and physical anguish, is this:
‘My primary mentor is a world-renowned expert in…’
Ah, much better.
Tip 2: Wait on or wait for
A reader writes:
I’ve been meaning to ask you about this one for a while, but had forgotten until I saw this:
Meanwhile in the Senate, everyone is waiting on Max Baucus of Montana. Nothing is going to happen on health care without the approval of Baucus, whose vast authority stems from the fact that he speaks for both the Senate Finance Committee and a state that contains three-tenths of one percent of the country’s population.
(From NYT July 24, 2009)
Until maybe 10-15 years ago, “waiting on” was something a waiter did. “Waiting for” was something you did while someone was getting ready. As in “Waiting for Godot,” not “Waiting on Godot.” With the exception that “waiting on” was sometimes used by African-Americans as synonymous with “waiting for.”
Today, the distinction seems to have disappeared. I never hear that anyone is waiting for anything; they’re always waiting on. In fact, waiters don’t wait on tables anymore, they “wait tables.”
Can we start a Save the Preposition Society?
While the use of ‘wait on’ as a synonym for ‘wait for’ has become ubiquitous, I agree that such usage is wrong and should not be found in our formal writing. I won’t go so far to say it should never be used, because it is found in certain dialects, and who am I to deny a dialectal use. But if you are not from the South or someplace where ‘wait on’ is used this way, don’t.
‘Wait on’ means to serve or to attend. The University of Victoria’s writing guide puts it succinctly:
You wait for people or events, and you wait on tables.
Of course, you can also wait on customers and wait on your employer if you are a servant. But that’s pretty much the gist of it.
As for the Save the Preposition Society, it’s a good idea but I have to go with my heart on this one, and I really, really want to save the hyphen!
From the NY Times in its quasi-eulogy to the hyphen <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/07/weekinreview/07mcgrath.html>