The Language Perfectionist: More Misuses in the News

Here is more proof, if any is needed, that proofreaders and copy editors don’t always catch every error. I found all the following examples recently in major national publications.

  • “But worse, it always gets my shackles up when someone tells me I can’t do something.”

The word shackles refers to handcuffs or other sorts of fetters. Hackles are the feathers of a bird. Hence, the expression “to get one’s hackles up” means to be insulted or irritated.

  • “How presumptuous that the guy in the ads says, ‘Test drive a Jag-u-ar today’… .”

The word presumptuous means taking liberties by assuming too much. It implies an attitude that’s bold or arrogant. The right word here is pretentious.

  • ” … the efficiency-demanding requirements of rice-patty cultivation… .”

A rice patty is a culinary creation, but an irrigated or flooded field where rice is grown is a paddy.

  • “Time drags as we wait for the next meeting with our lover.”

This choice of words creates an image that the writer probably didn’t intend. Better: “… as one waits for the next meeting with one’s lover.”

  • “Her books are banned here, and the blog she has kept since 2005 is currently blocked.”

When a new word, such as blog, enters the language, it can take a while to work out the right ways to use it. The phrase “keeping a blog,” which is probably modeled on “keeping a diary,” isn’t ideal. It implies doing something that’s private rather than public. Blogging is a form of communication, so the best word here is published, not kept.

[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 recently published by AWAI that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]