Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A few more prevalent linguistic errors

As long as we're on the subject of distressingly common linguistic barbarisms, many of which are also logically fallacious, here are three more that I notice have increasingly infected writing and conversation over the past few decades.

(1) It is remarkably common for people to use formulations along the lines of "more X than anyone" or "more X than anything" when simple logic should tell them they really must mean "more X than anyone or anything else".

(2) It has also become increasingly common for people to say "hone in" when the expression they're really groping for is "home in". I suspect that a phonological slippage from "home" to "hone" is part of the explanation, and I also suspect that part of the problem is that many people no longer have any idea what "hone" means. To "hone" something is to sharpen it, as in honing the edge of a knife--or, by metaphorical extension, making something more acute or effective. If you hone your analytical and linguistic skills, you can use them to home in on errors like this one.

(3) And even a great many otherwise intelligent and educated people appear to believe that the phrase "this begs the question" means something along the lines of "this raises the following question" or "this forces us to ask the following question". It doesn't.

Yours for sensible discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. My friend Mark Gerson adds: "Yes – also: 'I could care less'. It’s the precise opposite of what people mean when using the phrase."