Editor’s note: Mrs. Language Person has dusted off some of her favorite columns while filling in for Sholeh Patrick, who’s recovering from an injured wing.
Some readers have shared their linguistic frustrations with Mrs. Language Person, asking her to spread the angst in print.
Like the injured, winged creatures used as playthings by mischievous cats in our backyard, certain words repeatedly endure abuse and misuse, shredded to bits like slow-cooked brisket. Dear readers, Mrs. Language Person shares your distress.
Reader One laments, “The phrase ‘for example’ does not have the same meaning as the word ‘like.’” Indeed.
“For example,” she continued, “‘Legislatures in states like Arizona and Washington are considering changes in K-12 education’ should be ‘Legislatures in some states are considering changes in K-12 education, for example, Arizona and Washington.’ Arizona and Washington are nearly as unlike as any pair of states I can think of!”
Well stated. “Like” means “similar to,” whereas “for example” introduces a list or item which explains the meaning of the preceding reference. In Reader One’s example, another alternative to the incorrect “like” is “such as.”
Now don’t get MLP started on “for instance.” Oft accepted in substitution of “for example,” MLP argues that this is at least less correct, if not incorrect. An instant is a moment. An instance is defined as (1) that which is instant or urgent, or (2) that which is offered in proof or exemplification, or (3) an occasion. Two out of three support MLP’s distaste. To fans of definition (2): Touche.
Speaking of examples and explanations, MLP turns to that frequent contributor to English language: Latin. The abbreviations “e.g.” (exempli gratia, or for example) and “i.e.” (id est, or that is) are efficient, although misunderstood, substitutes. Let’s stay with Reader One’s hypothetical example:
“Legislatures in some states, e.g., Arizona and Washington, are considering changes...” Arizona and Washington are examples of legislatures considering changes. However, if the writer intends to explain or reword a statement, we might see instead, “Legislatures in some states have failed in their attempts, i.e. partisan discord has prevented meaningful progress.” This sentence offers not specific examples, but an explanation of the preceding phrase. Note that a comma precedes both but follows only “e.g.”
Don’t want to memorize Latin? Try these mnemonic (mnemonikos, Greek for “memory”) tricks for e.g. and i.e.: example given, in effect.
Next, as I quoted Reader One, Reader Two’s point came to mind. I quote:
“Your column made me think of a common misuse of the word, ‘quote.’ Many TV reporters and talk show hosts make the mistake of quoting a person by saying, ‘quote...unquote.’ It should be said, ‘quote...end quote.’ To say unquote makes the quote non-existent.”
Several more readers listed words commonly both misspelled and mispronounced, i.e. “heighth” (height), “relator” (realtor), and “assessory” (accessory, pronounced “ak-sess-sory”). MLP’s pet peeve is “would of” (would have). Also common are “affidavid” (affidavit), “expresso” (espresso), “Febuary” (February), “nucular” (nu-cle-ar), etc.
Notice that last abbreviation? How often MLP sees it spelled “Ect” or pronounced “excetera.” The word is etcetera (Latin for “and other things” or “and so forth”), in short “etc.”
Perhaps a year of Latin should be required of all students. That would certainly save English teachers some red ink, n’est-ce pas (French, “isn’t it so?”)?
Mrs. Language Person and Sholeh Patrick are columnists for the Hagadone News Network. Email: email@example.com