Monthly Archives: March 2014

Will or Would?

“The new mall would be phased in over a period of months and will require several parking adjustments, depending on the number of users.”

That sentence uses both “will” and “would.” Aside from being grammatically confusing, it refers to two different situations:

“Will” says something is going to happen. The parking adjustments WILL be made. “Would” is provisional; the mall MAY be built—but it may not. This sentence requires that both parts use either WILL or WOULD.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

imagesOdd words, these, both used for discarded goods.

FLOTSAM refers to wreckage or cargo from ships that is found afloat or washed up by the ocean. It is also used for people and things considered worthless: “Before putting their house on the market, the owners cleared it of all magazines, newspapers and other flotsam. The root is in the Anglo-Norman French from the verb “to float.”

JETSAM isn’t normally used for people but rather for unwanted cargo that has been thrown overboard and then has washed ashore.  It derives from the 16th century English word “jettison.”

Interestingly, when Googling for an image, I discovered a rock band exists called Flotsam and Jetsam. I wonder if they were tossed off a ship.


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Imminent or Eminent?

These two words look similar and may even sound alike depending on where in the US you live; however, their meanings are quite different:

IMMINENT means about to happen: To date, seismologists cannot tell us when an earthquake is imminent.

EMINENT, when used about a person, means great fame or importance within a particular field: Yo Yo Ma is perhaps the eminent cellist of our time. Some may argue that other cellists are better. PREEMINENT is used when there is no doubt about a person’s manner of standing out (either in a positive or negative way): Vladimir Putin is the preeminent politician in Russia today.

When EMINENT is used about an object, it describes a particular positive quality: When introduced many decades ago, seat belts immediately became the eminent safety feature in vehicles until that time.


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About Lettuce


Let’s see: Iceberg, romaine, arugula, Boston, frisee.

Sorry, I meant about “Let us.” If you make that into a contraction, it becomes “Let’s.” Without the apostrophe, it means “allows”: “The computer lets you correct typing errors easily.”

Let’s hear it for the computer. Sometimes even autocorrect gets it right. But you still have to proofread; don’t trust it.


March 21, 2014 · 5:00 PM

To Capitalize or Not to Capitalize, That May Be Your Question

Here are two situations that confuse people about whether they should capitalize:

1) The seasons: Ordinarily, do not capitalize seasons. For instance, “It will be spring in a few days.” However, if you need to document which particular spring, do capitalize the season: “Your next evaluation will be in Spring 2015.”

2) Directions vs. geographical areas: The latter are capitalized. For example, the Near East, the South, Southern California, the Mid-Atlantic states. Directions, however, are not capitalized. “She got on the San Diego Freeway and crept south for over 50 miles.”


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Lend or Loan?


images-1imagesA loyal correspondent (there are so many of you!) wrote last week to ask me about these two words. She had heard an announcer state he was going to loan something to a fellow announcer. Loyal Correspondent wrote she had always been taught that “loan” is a noun and “lend” is a verb and wondered if she was correct.

Under the heading of Language Changes, I can say that, traditionally, she is correct:

“I will lend you my umbrella. In addition, I am making you a loan of $20.”

Some dictionaries have stuck with this distinction. However, common usage is leading to leniency. Most people would not flinch at seeing or hearing “I will loan you my umbrella.” In fact, “loan” as a verb is found in an Act of Parliament from 1542.


It’s your call whether to use “loan” as a noun, a verb or both.

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How’s Your Breath?

Madison caught it with her breath.

Madison caught it with her breath.

“Madison watched the plot twists of ‘Breaking Bad’ with baited breath.”

All I can say is, “Yuck.” Perhaps Madison was hoping to catch a trout. I’m picturing her with worms or flies in her mouth. Madison has “bated” breath. “Bated” comes from “abated,” meaning “reduced or lessened.” She’s holding her breath, not fishing with it.

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