The Language Perfectionist: An Abundance of Misuses

Here’s a roundup of interesting mistakes, culled from my recent reading of daily newspapers:

  • “Mr. Bush erred in not clamping down on a rapacious, wreckless Congress and putting the brakes on its spending.”

The word for “careless, heedless, out of control” is spelled reckless. If wreckless existed, it might almost serve as an antonym for reckless!

  • “She believes that sandals are ‘innately respectable in hot weather’ and, if chosen well, can be worn to most offices.”

I puzzled over what word this person had in mind. The word innate means “inborn, possessed at birth,” which doesn’t make a lot of sense here. She may have meant eminently.

  • “[Flight delays are bad but] perhaps the lingua franca of Mr. LaHood [Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood] and the media — hostage-taking, torture, imprisonment, ‘the flight from hell’ — should be reserved for more serious use.”

A lingua franca is a means of communication among people who speak different languages. Perhaps this editorial writer was being facetious or sarcastic, but my preference would have been language, terminology, or choice of words.

  • “The musical-theater idiom has regained its currency, and is enjoying what may be its greatest popularity among young people since the pre-rock era…. The foremost example of this is ‘Glee,’ Fox’s instant-hit TV show….”

It’s not exactly a mistake, but what’s happening above is a stylistic quirk that ranks among my pet language peeves. Instead of the naked and possibly confusing this, it would be clearer and more elegant to write this development or this phenomenon.

[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.]

Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.