January 3, 2013
Weekly Language Usage Tips: squash or quash or squelch & comma after too
Tip 1: Squash or quash or squelch
A reader writes:
A student paper contains this sentence:
Although there was a sense of optimism in the air about a national healthcare program being created, it was quickly squashed by interest groups such as insurance companies, physicians, business owners, and union leaders, as well as America’s entrance into World War I.
I have seen “squashed” used in this way before, but isn’t the proper phraseology either squelched or quashed and not the elision of the two?!
Our esteemed reader is absolutely right. And apparently mixing up quash and squash is very common. Mixing up squelch with quash and squash is less of a problem—partly because squelch is used far less often and partly because squelch can be used as a synonym for both words. It’s complicated.
I have to start by saying that there is a great deal of contention about how these words should be used. And people on all sides can trot out examples of how the words have been used synonymously or differently for hundreds of years and cite the precedents and mumble ‘who is to say which is right.’ And I have to agree—there is clear evidence that the words have been used in varying ways over time. Still, we have to come up with a bottom line, and, as it turns out, I am willing to say which is right. At least for our work. And this is it:
Let’s use squash in the physical sense; to squash something is to flatten it, to crush it.
You squash a bug.
And let’s use quash to mean suppress or nullify in its entirety—especially in a legal sense.
You quash an indictment or a rumor (or in the reader’s example—a sense of optimism).
Squelch means to crush (squash) or stifle or silence (somewhat like quash) or to tread though water making a splashing sound (you’ve got me on that one.)
Hopes and dreams can be squelched (but hopefully, you won’t be doing it).
Tip 2: Comma before too
A reader writes:
It was wonderful for me to see you, too.
I always put a comma before “too” in sentences like the above. Not everyone does this. Is this wlut-worthy?
Absolutely. I think that anything that stirs our curiosity is worth exploring.
This provides us with an example of 1) how language and usage evolves and 2) that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Sadly, I must admit that the old dog I am referring to is me. Let me explain.
Eons ago, some of us were taught to always put a comma before too at the end of a sentence. The lesson was so ingrained that it would be impossible for us to ignore it.
However, times change, and today, most style manuals eschew the comma if it is not needed for emphasis or clarity.
To my old dog eye, omitting the comma just looks wrong, and I will continue to use it—there are some things that you just can’t change. But the good news is that I know that I’m the old dog, and I won’t give you a hard time for leaving the comma out. I know that the fault lies in me.
Those darned new-fangled rules!