Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

grammar & usage

 

Dear Richard Lederer: I was at a conference getting myself orientated about preventative maintenance — or should that be “oriented about preventive maintenance”? Could you interpretate the correct form of these words? –Spence Malden

In many horror films, malignant monsters, from giant insects to blobs of glop, writhe about. Unfortunately, such grotesque mutations are not limited to science-fiction; they are constantly spawning in our language. We English speakers seem possessed by a desire to use a bloated form of certain words when a more compact form will do. These elongated versions are called “needless variants” and “unnecessary doublets,” and should be assiduously avoided.

To avoid the affectation of gratuitous syllabification, use analysis, not analyzation; brilliance, not brilliancy; spayed, not spayded; skittish, not skitterish; compulsory, not compulsorary; connote, not connotate; heart rending, not heart-rendering; mischievous, not mischievious; grievous, not grievious; hark back to, not harken back to; combative, not combatative; accompanist, not accompanyist; regardless, not irregardless; desalination, not desalinization; archetypal, not archetypical; and, in most instances, sewage, not sewerage — and to orient, not to orientate.

These correct choices work as preventive maintenance of our English language. True, preventative does repose in many dictionaries, but preventive, especially as an adjective, is generally viewed as the preferred form. That’s why the impeccable Henry W. Fowler, in “Modern English Usage,” remarks that “preventative is a needless lengthening of an established word, due to oversight and caprice.” That’s why preventive is about five times as common as preventative in modern print sources.

Dear Richard Lederer: I enjoyed your recent article on confusable words, including fulsome. Soon after that, Donald Trump, Jr.’s attorney promised a “fulsome report” on recent events his client has been involved in [oops, preposition]. Did he mean “offensive”? I had a brief e-mail exchange with the letters editor about this, but his contention is that the first definition in his dictionary is a positive. Our Webster’s defines fulsome as “offensive, disgusting.” –Helen Burk

I received messages from a number of readers decrying the use of fulsome to mean “full, complete.” Agreeing with them, only 14% of the distinguished members of the American Heritage Usage Panel accepted fulsome as a positive, as in the sentence “You can adjust the TV’s audio settings for a more fulsome bass in movie soundtracks.” This just goes to show that you can fulsome of the people all of the time but you can’t fool readers of “Lederer on Language.”

And by the way, Helen, there’s nothing with that terminal preposition that you just beat yourself up about. Note the preposition I’ve just used to naturally end my sentence with. And that split infinitive you just read is also kosher.

Dear Richard Lederer: Please clarify the difference between Capitol and capital. I was taught that Capitol refers to a particular government building. In fact, I learned to spell Capitol by picturing the letter o as a dome on the Capitol. I use capital to invest. -Joan Mallery

Capitol harks (not harkens) back to the Capitolium, an ancient Roman temple dedicated to the worship of Jupiter. Capitol refers either to the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., which is always capitalized (the pun is unavoidable), or a building in which a state legislature meets, when it’s lowercased as capitol.

The term for a city or town that serves as a seat of government is capital, which is also the spelling for accumulated wealth. That’s why taxes are sometimes called “capital punishment.”

Dear Richard Lederer: Why do so many professional speakers say things like “A horse is different than a mule” when than should be from? Please provide additional examples of the correct use of than and from in comparisons. -James W. Fitch

Than is ordinarily used with comparative adjectives, such as better than and stronger than, but different is not a comparative. Although different than is commonly used in informal speech, careful speakers and writers prefer different from before a noun, pronoun or noun expression:

His political philosophy is different from mine.
Today’s computers are different from those of even a few years ago.

Different than is the most common form that introduces an adverbial clause (statement containing a subject and verb) of comparison:

Returning many years later, she found that her home town was different than she   remembered it.
The meaning of the word reek is different than it was in Shakespeare’s time.