February 26, 2009

Weekly Language Usage Tips: words & who’s or whose

Posted in who's or whose, words at 8:00 am by dlseltzer

Weekly Language Usage Tips

More pleonasms from WLUT readers:

Harmful pathogen
Excess contaminant
Circular ring
This one isn’t a pleonasm but it’s too good to omit: hand tighten using pliers.

Tip 1: Is that a word?

It seems that words can be pretty contentious, confusing, or even contemptible. And readers of WLUT take notice. In today’s first tip, we’ll look at some words that readers find perplexing or have taken exception to.

I was at a PowerPoint presentation today where the slide was titled ”summarization of…” Is this any different than a ”summary…”?

Summarization. What an awkward and unwieldy word. It means the act of summarizing, that is, the act of collecting or presenting major points. The difference between summary and summarization is subtle: while summarization is the act of putting together key points, summary refers to the set of key points. Frankly, I can’t think of a situation in which I would use the word, summarization-summarize, sure, but summarization? I don’t think so. In the PowerPoint, example above, the presenter most likely meant summary but used summarization to sound smarter (falling for the myth that the ability to use polysyllabic words means you are very smart-think using utilize when you could say use). To summarize, don’t use summarization unless you are referring to the actual act of collecting major points.

I am applauding your criticism of “impactful”. Despite it’s designation as a non-word, I fear that it is gaining popularity. It grates on me every time I read or hear it.

Turning impact from a noun into a verb was terrible enough, and while I accept that usage in the work of others (reluctantly), I would never use it as a verb myself. Making it into an adjective or adverb, however, is going too far. Please, never ever use impactful. Never ever.

The FedEx woman I talked with on Friday gave me reason to let you know of this:

“We can’t have the express driver pick up ground packages because of the sortation process the packages go through.”

I had her repeat her sentence to make sure she meant to say that. Which she did.

Sortation. Another word that has no excuse for existing. And, I would argue that it doesn’t exist. It is used to mean sorting. However, I will cut the Fed Ex woman a little slack because it has become jargon in some industries where it refers to the mechanical sorting of parcels. But only a little slack because sortation, for the time being at any rate, is not a legitimate word.

NOTE: A small rant about on-line resources. I remember a world without an internet (how did we get anything done?), and while I applaud and even revere the access we have to almost everything, I admit to being frustrated about the speed with which thoughts become facts and non-words become words on-line. I am especially concerned about the lack of thoughtful adjudication of these new words and facts. Think of a fictional word and it becomes an actual word somewhere on-line; some dictionary or another will give it legitimacy. Thus, I found impactful on-line, sortation, and even corporatese (see below). The thing to remember is that just because you can find an on-line reference for something, does not mean it is a legitimate word or fact. End of rant.

Deliverable. Does not appear in Encarta online dictionary.

Characterized in Wikipedia entry as “Like many terms common in corporate usage, the word is considered corporate jargon or corporatese, referring specifically to goals.”

My view is it should be banned from usage and all violators shot on the spot, due process to the contrary notwithstanding.

Care to comment?

Funny, deliverable is a word that I don’t have a problem with. I have been working with the government for so many years and have been responsible for producing so many deliverables, that the word seems natural to me. But the writer is correct: deliverable is legitimate as an adjective, but as a noun, it really is corporate/government jargon. I think, in my own work, I would use the word product rather than deliverable, but when I see it in a Program Announcement or Request for Application, it doesn’t faze me at all.

I saw this in a magazine. Is it okay to use tours like this?

For legendary fashion icon, Ines de la Fressange, a home isn’t merely a place to live-it’s a veritable storybook. She tours us through the tales she tells with her country house, 2 Paris apartments and even her office.

No, it’s not. Tour can be a verb (he is touring the countryside), but while you can tour a country or a place but you can’t tour people. So you can tour, you just can’t tour us. I did find one reference on-line defining tour to mean guide (10th definition), but see my rant above.

I wonder what you think about one of the most common collective nouns in the English language: pants. While the origin of the ”pair of pant” is that it was in fact two separate pieces, this has not been true for a couple of centuries. Yet we say ”my pants are loose” don’t we? I suppose that if pant was Latin and the words were pantum and panta we’d be inclined to say ”my panta is”… but it just seems wrong to say ”pants is.”

There are a number of nouns that end with s, are singular, and take plural verbs, for example: scissors, trousers, pants, jeans, glasses, and pliers. What these words have in common is that they all have more than one of something: 2 blades on scissors, 2 legs in trousers, pants, and jeans, 2 lenses on glasses, and 2 grippers (I have no idea what the technical term is) on pliers, and all take a plural verb

Here is an excerpt from a New York Times column by William Safire on the subject.

January 19, 1997
Pants, Knickers and Plus Fours

”Why is it,” asks A. Sock of New York, ”that if you order a pair of chairs, you get two of them, but if you order a pair of pants, you only get one of them?”

Answer: Both pants and trousers are construed as a pair, like the legs they fit around, and ”a pair of,” like ”a couple of,” uses a collective noun usually treated as plural. (A couple of guys are here to buy pants; the pants are for sale.) The s on the end of pants and trousers and britches (an 1880’s variant of breeches) also tugs us toward treating them as plural. (Don’t start up with grits and scissors.)

Though first spotted in 1893, the singularization of pants has increased in recent years; pants now often drops its s. Why has ”a pair of pants” sometimes become ”the pant”? Because of the women’s pants suit. A man’s suit consists of a jacket and a pair of pants, while a woman’s suit used to be a jacket and skirt of the same material. With the popularity of women’s slacks, a retronym was coined: the pants suit, to differentiate from the skirted suit. But try to pronounce ”pants suit”; you cannot separate the s sounds — which is why we have the pantsuit

Tip 2: Whose or who’s life is it anyway?

A recent email inspired this tip:

Oh mighty word maven, please answer my query:

Subject: Who’s Manual Is It?

In reviewing a manuscript I came across the following “…the user’s manual also gives them the discretion to collect data…” Setting aside the implicit anthropomorphizing of a book, who’s manual is it? I think the common use is to refer to a ‘user manual’ as a compound noun. As in, “Most software manufacturers currently provide user manuals in electronic form, rather than as printed volumes.” A user’s manual is a dog-eared book with tape flags and annotations sitting on a shelf or raising the height of the user’s monitor to eye level. That is, ‘user’s manual’ refers to a specific person’s book, not the publication itself. Please correct me if I am wrong!

word boy

Well, word boy was not wrong about the user manual. But another item in this email gave me pause. Who’s manual is it? Yikes.

Who’s is a contraction of who is or who has.

Who’s going to the basketball game?

Who’s got time for dinner when there’s a proposal going out?

Whose is the possessive form for who.

Whose manual is it?

Whose grant got funded?

Remember possessive pronouns never take an apostrophe (e.g., its, your) although possessive nouns do (e.g., the boy’s, the group’s).

And since we are talking about who’s and whose, if you haven’t read or heard ”Who’s on First?” by Abbott and Costello recently, I highly recommend it.

<http://www.baseball-almanac.com/humor4.shtml >


1 Comment »

  1. Rickard said,

    Love your site!

    Seized Cars From $100, Boats, Real Estate, Collectibles And Jewelry. Government And Police Auctions Online

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