While my students write, I browse Garner’s.

“benighted stab at correctness”

“ghastly example of hypercorrectness”

“The best writers match substance with form. They use language precisely, evocatively, even daringly.”


…because I know you were all on tenterhooks

Garner’s puts “enormity” misused for “enormousness” at a 4 (“Ubiquitous but…”) on the Language Change Index. Or, to put it another way, this one’s a losing battle.

Erm, I think maybe you meant “the vast space within”?

Enormity: (1) “the quality of passing all moral bounds; excessive wickedness or outrageousness.” (2) A monstrous offense or evil; an outrage. (From my American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.) As I do not have my copy of Garner’s handy at the moment, I can’t tell you where “enormity” used for “great size, immensity,” now sits on the Language Change Index. My AHD calls that definition a “usage problem,” but Merriam-Webster lists it as an acceptable definition and argues, “When used to denote large size, either literal or figurative, it usually suggests something so large as to seem overwhelming… .” For me, “enormity” to mean “very large” stops me every time; if I were the copyeditor for this site (was there a copyeditor for this site?), I would have suggested considering some different wording in order to avoid the issue altogether.

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(From the City Modern home tours web site)

I would get some work done, but I’ve spent the whole morning being lured away by the siren’s call of fascinating language-related posts. (“Literally” is getting some action.) If only I could be paid to read all day and synthesize what I’ve learned. Career aspiration: paid sponge.

portmanteau + eggcorn = portmanteaucorn? eggmanteau?

In the NYT, in an interesting article about artworks damaged by Hurricane Sandy, a conservator is quoted speaking of her studio filled with drying art:

Screen shot 2013-05-10 at 6.26.42 PMI’m assuming here that she meant “laundromat,” a portmanteau word (“laundry” + “automat[ic]”) that, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary was originally a proprietary term coined (no pun intended) in the 1940s by Westinghouse to stand for “automatic coin-operated laundry” (and likely inspired as well by the once-famed Automat restaurants).

Two things about this quote interest me. (1) “Laundry mat” is a eggcorn* of “laundromat,” so it’s an eggcorn of a portmanteau word. This is the kind of linguistic evolution in action that makes word people go a little giddy and need to sit down for a minute. (2) What is the NYT policy on correcting a direct quote? No [sic]? Or is the editorial policy in play here to assume that “laundry mat” has become a common enough variant that readers will get the simile?** Or (heavens!) did that one just slip by the copyeditors?


*Eggcorn – “a word or phrase that results from a mishearing or misinterpretation of another, an element of the original being substituted for one that sounds very similar or identical (e.g., tow the line instead of toe the line).” (via the New Oxford American Dictionary).

**Can you believe I almost forgot to consult Garner’s on this? The Language Change Index puts “laundry mat” for “laundromat” as a Stage 1: rejected.