REAL WORDS—PEEVE OR NOT—REALLY DO MATTER…

September 3rd, 2017

I have lots of personal peeves—partially destroyed and very unique jump to mind, thank you Dr. Evarts—regarding correct word usages, but I could do much worse than deferring to Harold Evans’ glossary.

Evans, in The 35 words you’re (probably) getting wrong, writes:

I freely acknowledge that, in a list of this sort, “glossary” is a fancy Latin word for a collection of pet peeves (noun, 1919), meaning an annoyance or irritation. One of my peeves is that, as a noun originating in America, it had not been admitted into the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1968) on my desk in London when I edited the Sunday Times. Now, it is recognised (“back-formation from peevish”). I admit I have no evidence for believing that the neglect of peeve is to blame for angering the poltergeist Peeves in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

My favorites on Evans’ list include:

Decimate. Confused with “destroy”. By derivation, decimation means “killing one in 10”. Today, it is often used figuratively to mean “very heavy casualties”, but to say “completely decimated” or “decimated as much as half the town” simply will not do.

Gourmet/Gourmand. The gourmet, one with a refined, discriminating taste for the best food and wine, will be insulted to be called a gourmand, a glutton fond of good things. [I heard this one abused just this week on the radio, JH] and

Less/Fewer. “Less” is right for quantities – less coffee, less sugar. It means “a smaller amount”. “Fewer” is right for comparing numbers – fewer people, fewer houses; less dough results in fewer loaves. Nobody would think of saying fewer coffee, fewer sugar, but every day somebody writes “less houses”. [I’m also a stickler for the misuse of over, a positional description, and more, a quantity description, JH]

I’ve also ordered Evans’ book Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters, from which his glossary is extracted.

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