Niagara Gazette

May 18, 2013

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: The 'write' way to do things

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Nit-Pickers — In memory of the late grammarian and linguist J.J. Kilpatrick, Doug presents his quarterly roundup of sentence-structure demolition, as effected by people who oughta’ know better. English finals soon? Pay attention:

“Paul, GOP senator from Kentucky, told the Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday that his recent visit to Howard (University) didn’t go so bad after all …” syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts. But it went bad if he spoke to the English Department, where it should have gone “badly.”

“All the major-league teams are based in American cities,” Michael Liedtke, Associated Press. So Toronto’s one of ours now, eh?

“Citing sequestration — the draconian automatic budget cuts that took effect March 1 — as the reason for the control tower cuts …” Associated Press on Niagara Falls Airport. Wonder if the feds tapped into this one? “Draconian” traces its roots to Draco, who ran a tight ship in ancient Greece, and means “unusually cruel.” The “sequester” cuts of less than 3 percent make old Draco seem like Santa.

“It’s important for retailers to stick to a strategy that is complimentary to their brand promise,” said Martin of ShopperTrak. – Associated Press piece on Penney’s. Strategies don’t sweet-talk their brand promise, they complete them. Hence: “complementary.”

“As author of the 2004 book ‘Why Lincoln Matters: Today More than Ever,’ you can literally say Cuomo wrote the book on the 16th president …” popular political columnist. Sorry, Bob, we did not write “Why Lincoln Matters,” though we wish we had. Exquisite grammarian Honest Abe would have put it: “As author….Cuomo wrote the book on the 16th President, you can say, literally.”

“As Neil Schmitz quite rightly observes in the book forward …” big-city book-review editor, on a new biography of Mark Twain. Excuse us for being forward, but it’s “foreword” in this context. Spell-check, where is thy sting?

“As an historian, with college degrees and tweed sports coats and everything, you know I’m prepared to offer the same, only different …” fellow columnist Ed Adamczak. This construction suggests that the reader is an historian, which ain’t necessarily so. Reconstruction: “You know that as an historian, I’m prepared…” Ed, who writes volumes, seldom errs.

“That was one of the most bizarre, unique days of my life …” LeBron James. He missed the layup. “Unique” means one of a kind and allows of no modifiers. As a word, it is almost uniquely misunderstood.

“That was a show only for cats,” Punkinhead to Tiger in the comic strip “Tiger.” What’s wrong with that? Nothing — the “only” is perfectly placed, whereas many might have said, “That was only a show for cats.” Give a posthumous A+ to the late Bud Blake, who died about four years ago.

But we’re still here. Come visit. Bring a book.

Contact Polly and Doug at