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Last Words - Technical Corrections
by Alec McEwen

AREN'T I? No, 1 AIN'T. In her interesting July 1991 Globe and Mail article about tobacco addiction, Eve Drobot, a confessed smoker, decried the lack of public funds to assist people trying to get rid of that habit. "Yet aren't I going to cost the government thousands in health care when 1 develop emphysema or lung cancer?" she asked. It's a good question, but one that might have been better framed Aren't I is a common colloquialism admitting, no substitute that does not sound vulgar or stilted. Obviously ungrammatical, aren't I is at times replaced by the long discredited ain't I, or the correct but formal am I not, or even the amn't I. Perhaps the best course, in written language at least, is to avoid aren't I and rework any sentence in which it threatens to appear. As a contributing editor to Saturday Night, Ms. Drobot should have also spotted the awkwardness of her aren't I going to" and used won't I' instead. Won't is an odd-looking contraction until it is recognized as a short form of woll not, in which woll is an ancient spelling of will.


HE, HIM In a March 1991 item about the new president of MacMillan Bloedel Ltd., the Financial Post reported that Robert Findlay, a Scottish inimigrant, got his first look at Canada when "his parents sent he and his elder brother" to a New Brunswick school "for a decent education." Perhaps, as a result, the president is now better informed than the reporter in his choice of pronouns. A Canadian Press release, carried in the same newspaper a few months later, referred to a private prosecution brought by an auditor against six Revenue Canada officials who were alleged to have illegally reviewed "the income tax returns of he and his wife " The complainant should have also laid a charge for an offence against English grammar Since replacing he by him sounds awkward in this instance, it would have been better to say "his and his wife's income tax returns," or to have used the possessive form of the auditor's family name instead of the first his.


OSTRACIZATION, OSTRACISM. The increasing tendency to create verbs from nouns by adding the suffix -ize has also led to the attempted construction of new nouns ending in -ization, even when a better and simpler alternative already exists. The historian Michael Bliss apparently fell into this error in his Globe and Mail review of a book dealing with the Riel resistance. He wrote in July 1991 that Anglican clergymen encouraged the ostracization of Manitoba residents whose antecedents and moral character did not measure Lip to their own standards. Sorry, Dr Bliss, but there's really no such word, despite its recent acceptance by Random House in Webster's College Dictionary. Try ostracism.


PRECIPITOUS, PRECIPITATE. A Calgary Herald review of a novel, Yoruba Girl Dancing said that a Nigerian child's loss of innocence began when her father precipitously despatched her to school in England. Did she drop by parachute to the new environment, or was the parent precipitate in sending her there was precipitious, a word that could mean either her falling abruptly as from the top of a sheer cliff, or acting rashly. When precipitious disappeared, its surviving cognates, and precipitate each retained both meanings. Although many but not all, dictionaries still accept precipitous and precipitate as synonymous adjectives, other authorities confine the former to indicating steep descent and the latter to describing hasty action. The learned but curmudgeonly Fowler, in his Modern English Usage, curtly dismissed as ignorant those who fail to make this distinction. That may be going too far, yet there remains a persuasive argument for using two separate, though perhaps frustratingly similar, words to define two quite different things.



STOCK QUOTATION. A July 1991 issue of the Financial Post produced the following: "Though not particularly robust, Joyce says the prospective stock market returns still merit being invested, as opposed to holding cash, which will proffer only single-digit returns" In this poorly constructed sentence, the reporter presumably meant to describe the health of the market, not the physique of its analyst. It is not the prospective market returns that "still merit being invested but a market that still merits investment because of its prospective returns. And while a cash deposit may offer only single-digit returns, it cannot reasonably be said to proffer them. Proffer implies a welcoming gesture that , goes beyond mere holding out or availability try. Whereas a hostess might proffer a drink, or her dog a to an arriving guest hospitable action., are inapplicable to inanimate objects like bank accounts. To misuse market jargon, the reporter's prose style is due for a technical correction.


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