GrammarPhile Blog

Word Breakdown or Politics as Usual

Posted by Julie DeSilva   May 8, 2012 6:30:00 AM

politician at podiumIn America, the political season is fast descending on our daily routine. The news programs are replete with candidates posturing, posing, and preening. Listed below are some of the vacant phrases we may hear in the coming months. Here's hoping that some of those running for office would heed Mark Twain's advice about keeping quiet instead of speaking.

Cannot help but. This expression is a confusion of two others, namely, can but and cannot help.

  • I can but try. (Better: I can only try.)
  • I cannot help feeling sorry for her opponent. (Not: cannot help but feel.)
Bad - badly. Use the adjective bad (not the adverb badly) after the verb feel or look.
  • I feel bad (not badly) about the speech I just gave.
  • But: He was hurt badly.
Ensure - insure - assure. Ensure means "to make certain." Insure means "to protect against loss." Assure means "to give someone confidence"; the object of assure should always refer to a person.
  • I want to ensure (make certain) that nothing can go wrong tomorrow.
  • I want to insure (protect it against loss) this sailboat, the Monkey Business, for $50,000.
  • I want to assure you (give you confidence) that nothing will go wrong.
More important - more importantly. More important is often used as a short form for "what is more important," especially at the beginning of a sentence. More importantly means "in a more important manner."
  • More important, we need to establish a credible platform very quickly. (What is more important.)
  • The incident was treated more importantly than it deserved. (In a more important manner.)

Note: It is quite common to see "More importantly" as a sentence starter or as a phrase starter. Though purists say to avoid it, 50 percent of the American Heritage Dictionary's usage panel sanctions it.

Like - as, as if. Like is correctly used as a preposition. Although like is also widely used as a conjunction in colloquial speech, use as, as if, or a similar expression in written material.

  • We need to find more voters like you.
  • Kate, like her predecessor, will have to keep her constituents employed, um, er, happy.
  • As (NOT Like) I told you earlier, I will keep all my promises.
  • It looks like victory.
  • It looks as if (NOT like) he will win.
  • George looks like his father.
  • George looks as (NOT like) his father did at the same age. BETTER: George looks the way his father did at the same age.
home in - hone in. Hone in is frequently used as a mistake for home in in the US and in the UK, according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. Apparently, several authors, including the late George Plimpton, have used hone in where the purists would insist home in is proper. Be safe. Hone is a transitive verb for "sharpen." A missile approaching its target is homing in on its target.
  • As we home in on election day, we need to hone our message so that even five-year-olds will know what we mean.
Source: The Gregg Reference Manual

Topics: misused words, word usage

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