September 8, 2011

Weekly Language Usage Tips: healthy or healthful & acquiesce in or acquiesce to

Posted in acquiesce in/to, healthy/healthful at 6:52 am by dlseltzer


Okay, we’ve pretty well established that I am a geek, and I admit to it freely. You know me as a grammar geek (well, you are reading the wlut, aren’t you) and a tech geek (if you are not using Dropbox, my friends, you should get thee to a nunnery). I now confess to another brand of geekiness: I am a graphic design and type geek, too (I am also a cooking geek which is why I recently subscribed to a new cooking magazine—Lucky Peach—which is at least as much about design as it is about food, but that’s for another day). My bookshelves in my living room, my home office, and my work office are filled with books about type and design (which helps explain why I am so adamant—some might say dogmatic—about you not using underlining ever in any of your writing [NOTE: guys, it’s a relic of the typewriter when we did not have alternatives—think bold, italic, color, or size—to show emphasis, and it was used to indicate to the typesetter which words should be italicized in the print version; it was never intended to be used in the final product], and why I insist that you use a serif type for the narrative, reserving the sans serif type for titles [NOTE: sans serif type is much harder to read in large quantities], and why I always make the distinction between typeface and font [NOTE: a typeface is the design that forms the letter; a font is the collection of all of the letters of a typeface including all of their sizes and styles that we need to have to print, thus, Palatino, Helvetica are typefaces and the families of letters are the fonts]. The reason I am fessing up now about being a type and design geek is that I just got a new book (it was released on September 1, and I got it on September 1—see, geek) that I want to recommend. It’s called, Just My Type: a book about fonts by Simon Garfield, and it is endlessly fascinating to anyone like me, who, when going to the movies, admires the titles and the type used in the credits almost as much as the acting. Did you know that the ampersand (&) is a stylized combination of the letters, e and t, and forms ‘et’ which is Latin for ‘and’? How cool is that? Before I read this book, I never imagined how much research went into the design of road and subway signs. The book starts with a rant about Comic Sans and covers Gutenberg and many of the great graphic designers over the years and notes that Steve Jobs, influenced by his classes in calligraphy, brought creative type to the home and office computers and talks about how type conveys emotion and provides anecdotes about type controversies (IKEA changed its branding from Futura to Verdana, and people were up in arms). It’s hugely entertaining and informative—at least to people (okay, maybe geeks) like me. Highly recommended.

Tip 1: Healthy or healthful

A reader writes:

I saw this in the Sunday Times business section:

Matthew Ferguson

            By KATE MURPHY Published: September 3, 2011

EATING Antica Pesa is a restaurant my wife and I discovered in downtown Rome. Our favorite dish there is fusilli trafilati in oro con broccoletti e salsiccia di Monte San Biagio, which is the best broccoli and sausage pasta I’ve ever tasted. At home, I try to eat healthy but I’m not all that successful. I drink a lot of Diet Coke.

What caught my eye was “eat healthy.”  I knew that wasn’t right, and I figured the correct word was healthily, which it is.

How about a commentary on the difference between and correct usage of healthy, healthful, healthily.

Okay. But I have to say, first, is this:  what the speaker should have said is not ‘I try to eat healthily,’ but  ‘I try to eat healthfully.’ And I know I am going to sound stodgy or old-fashioned when I say:

 People are healthy, and foods are healthful.

‘Healthy’ refers to a person (or personification of a thing) in good health. ‘Healthful’ should be used when referring to something that promotes good health.

This is where it gets somewhat tricky: food can be ‘healthy’ if you are referring to the fact that the food is free of contagion (‘This tomato is free of blemishes; it is a healthy tomato’); however, if you want to say that food is good for you, you would use ‘healthful.’

‘Healthily’ and ‘healthfully’ are just the adverb forms of ‘health’ and ‘healthful.’

These days, the words are often used synonymously, and few would give you a hard time about saying, ‘This salad looks very healthy’; however, strict critics will look askance, so it is best to remember the distinction.

Here is where you will find a previous discussion of the subject:

Tip 2: Acquiesce in or acquiesce to

A reader writes:

Acquiesce in? or acquiesce to?  I’ve always thought the former, but I’ve gotten into many fights, not yet lethal, over this.

You had to know this was coming, right? Here goes: Language is always evolving, and ‘acquiesce’ is one of those words that are involved with change.

First, a reminder: ‘acquiesce’ means to comply or submit passively.

Traditionally (and some sticklers say, still), ‘acquiesce in’ was the correct phrasing, and while you occasionally heard ‘acquiesce to, ’ it was rare indeed. Over time that has changed, and now, ‘acquiesce to’ is accepted and is, in fact, the more popular usage. I did a comparison on, which, by the way is a pretty cute site; you enter your words or expressions and after a brief battle, you will see how often both appear in Google. This was a pretty close tussle with ‘acquiesce in’  found 551,000 times and ‘acquiesce to’ found 552,000 times.

So the answer to the reader’s question is that they are both right and either can be used.

Garner put a little bit more nuanced spin on this:

“A slight differentiation seems to be emerging. Though one may acquiesce in events (especially unfortunate ones), one acquiesces to proposals and requests, or the people who propose them.”

That sounds reasonable to me. I think I’ll just sit back and watch the usage change.



  1. Jo said,

    Love the blog 🙂 My significant other is a typography/design geek too, and the author of this book: Fun with text!

  2. amamazing! i adore your weblog!

  3. Heya! Wished conclusion a good comment. I must say my spouse and i liked the next few paragraphs. Retain the awesome hard work.

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