February 24, 2011

Weekly Language Usage Tips: age & toward/towards & most all & in/at & traveling/travelling

Posted in most all, toward or towards, traveling/travelling, unique at 6:21 am by dlseltzer

Quick Tips: age & toward/towards & most all & in/at & traveling/travelling

This week, I thought I would respond to a few questions that don’t require a long discussion.

Quick Tip 1: More on age

A reader writes:

I have a further question about age. For example, when you refer to an age group: “The program is open to children 6 to 12 years of age.” Is this correct? I see this all the time, but I think it is incorrect – “for children aged six to 12 years.”

Both examples are correct. The second way is a little more economical perhaps and could even be more economical: “for children aged six to 12.”

Quick tip 2: Towards/towards

A reader writes:

Am I just old-school? I take issue with your example sentence:

“Towards the end of the movie…” as this is using the word “Towards” to begin a prepositional phrase. However, “Toward” should be used to begin a prepositional phrase:
“Toward the end of the movie…”

Hope my “old-school” comments help out a bit.

I wrote about this rather extensively about a year ago (https://languagetips.wordpress.com/category/toward-or-towards/). Your example is from a reader’s question which I tend not to edit unless there is an egregious mistake. However, while I recommend the use of ‘toward’ as many style guides do, both words, ‘toward’ and ‘towards’ are considered standard and can be used interchangeably. The difference in usage is largely regional. In formal writing, let’s stick with ‘toward.’

Quick Tip 3: Most all

A reader writes:

Regarding your recent comment on “youth or youths”, the inquirer stated, in part “I recently had a document edited and most all of my uses of ‘youth’…
I was surprised that you did not comment on the use of “most all”. Isn’t this phrase similar the ubiquitous “very unique”, that is to ask isn’t it preferred to say, simply “most” when one means most, and “all” when one means all.

Note: I have retired recently to Tennessee, where there is a profusion of extra words to common talk, words that are redundant at best, and confusing at worst. One of my favorite Deep South expressions is “all y’all.” The first time I heard this explained as the plural form of “y’all,” I assumed that it was a joke, but I have actually heard it used in conversation. The speaker clearly felt that “y’all” referred to a single individual!

‘Most all’ is a colloquialism and, as such, it is appropriate for the WLUT, which has a casual tone. The use of ‘most all’ should be restricted to conversation and informal writing. If this were formal, the use of ‘most’ alone would be preferred. So, while colloquial, ‘most all’ is not wrong. On the other hand, ‘very unique’ is absolutely wrong. As I have mentioned before (https://languagetips.wordpress.com/category/unique/), there are no degrees of uniqueness. Something is either unique or it is not. Something cannot be more unique, somewhat unique, kind of unique, least unique, or very unique. Unique does not mean unusual or rare; it means one of a kind and should be reserved for that use.

As for ‘all y’all,’ I had not heard this expression before, but it is a charming reminder about the quirkiness of languages of different regions and how language can add much color to the landscape.

Quick Tip 4: In/at

A reader writes:

I am revising and resubmitting a manuscript. In a footnote, I wanted to say that “the references for the table were available in the online appendix” or should it be “at the online appendix” or just “online appendix”? It all sounds awkward to me. I want to say “in the online.” What is correct?

In some ways, it was easier when things were all offline. The reader would know, without questioning, that “the references were available in the appendix.” But on the Internet, there really is no “in.” In trying to describe the location of the references accurately, our reader is at a loss to identify the correct preposition. In this case, I would eschew precision for convention and write it in a way that I know everyone will understand; I would choose the preposition, “in” just as I would if it were not online, and write, “”the references for the table were available in the online appendix.”

Quick Tip 5: Traveling/travelling

A reader writes:

Have you addressed spelling variations like traveling and travelling?

In the US, we tend to use a single consonant before the ”ing,’ but there are rules (of course), which I will get into in a moment; in the UK, the consonant tends to be doubled. I mentioned rules: In the US, whether the last consonant before the ‘ing’ is doubled depends upon the pronunciation of the word. In multisyllabic words, if the emphasis or stress is on the last syllable before the ‘ing,’ the consonant is doubled; otherwise, it is left single (e.g., traveling, forbidding, focusing, permitting).

1 Comment »

  1. Paul Rberts said,

    I was interested in the discussion of “most all”. I have never seen this usage, though this may be because I am British.

    I have on occasion seen “‘most all”, where ‘most is an abbreviation of “almost”. I would argue that this usage is correct (although without the abbreviation in a formal setting). Is that what is meant here?


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