The Language Perfectionist: A Gallimaufry of Gaffes

Below, another batch of interesting mistakes, all found recently in major newspapers:

  • A Pentagon spokesman on unneeded planes: “We’ve always frowned upon earmarks and additives that are above and beyond what we ask for.”

An additive is a substance, usually a chemical, that’s combined with another substance. The right word here is addition.

  • “Are we telling young adults it is alright to waste half their lives in a drug stupor and somehow it will magically work out?”

Notwithstanding the widespread use of alright in popular culture (The Kids Are Alright), the correct expression is all right. It’s two words, not one. Notes Garner’s Modern American Usage, an excellent style guide: “Alright for all right has never been accepted as standard in American English.”

  • “Demi Lovato… and Selena Gomez… are paired together for this comedy.”

This is a classic redundancy. The word paired tells us that the actresses are co-stars, so together should be omitted.

  • “Mr. Bowman, 47, appears to have crossed some unspoken line with his $400,000 in student debt and penalties, accumulated over many years.”

The problem here is a misused metaphor. The line the writer figuratively cites isn’t “spoken,” but rather is like a line on a map or one drawn in the sand.

  • “Sadly, there is a ton of good country music, but it is not being played on radio stations.”

This writer is guilty of a misplaced modifier that contradicts his meaning. The mistake is easily repaired by moving the adjective: “There is a ton of good country music but, sadly, it is not being played on radio stations.”

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]