Monday, August 29, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: W

Wending our way toward the end of my list of editorial peeves, we wander into the wasteland of the double-u, where we will witness the wonky, the witty, and (perhaps) the wise. Wenjoy.

-ward vs. -wards

Do you work towards a goal or toward it? Do you forge onwards and upwards or onward and upward? Once your goal is reached, do you celebrate afterwards or afterward?

I've read numerous times that the -ward/-wards choice is a cultural one, that British English favors -wards and American English favors -ward. But notice that word favors. We're not talking rules here: the fact remains that it is a choice, and a personal one.

William RikerImage via Wikipedia
Little-known fact: Starfleet standard-issue trombones
include a gold-pressed-latinum-plated mouthpiece.
And personally, I prefer (with perhaps a bit more insistence than necessary) the -ward version. Why? For a few reasons. I think the -wards version sounds sloppier, calling to mind thick-tongued lispers speaking way too much and saying way too little. I also prefer (if you haven't noticed) writing that is succinct, compact, efficient; those useless Ses only add more sibilant bulk to sentences.

Then there is the matter of consistency. Americans and Brits alike use a host of -ward words that they wouldn't even consider adding an S to, like straightforward, leeward, forward-thinking, and untoward. Is there something special about these words that they aren't subjected to S-izing?

And then there's my nerdly upbringing. Captain Riker, after all, jazzed it up with his Starfleet Swingers in Ten Forward, not Ten Forwards. (It hurts me just to type that!)

The choice is, of course, yours.

But seriously, drop the extra Ses.


Budding bards take note: Whence isn't just another word for when. It means "from what place" and doesn't need an extra preposition to work

So when a writer at writes,
Fittingly, to comprehend where Campbell might be headed with both football and his life, one has to understand from whence he came. [emphasis added]
the writer is being redundant. One needn't "understand from whence he came"; one need only "understand whence he came."

And while we're on the subject of Shakespeare-esque words that you don't ever have to actually use, remember that wherefore — as in "wherefore art thou Romeo" — means "why," not "where."

Who vs. that

As Alex Baze (aka @bazecraze) once tweeted, "No, you don't hate people that correct your grammar. You hate people WHO do that."

And he's right. Not about the hating part, but about the part where you should use who instead of that when you're referring to a person. The world is dehumanizing enough; don't take the humanity out of your relative pronouns, too.

Now, whether you use who or that to refer to animals — and specifically pets — is another matter entirely. You could make a good argument for a statement like this: My dear Poopsy Flapdoodle, who we trained to use the toilet, is nothing like that horrible, patchy-haired mongrel that relieved itself on the hood of your car.

Who vs. whom

Since I'm writing about grammar and usage here, I'm obligated to include who vs. whom, right? Honestly, though, this isn't really a peeve for me. Some people will tell you that figuring out which word to use is easy, quoting that old trick of substituting he or him, seeing which one is right, and then changing he to who or him to whom. And that works when you're dealing with fairly simple sentences.
Barred Owl Baltimore MarylandImage via Wikipedia
An owl says what?

You gave him herpes? You gave whom herpes?
I didn't know he was an anemic vampire. I didn't know who was an anemic vampire.

But sentences aren't always that simple, and figuring out when to use whom can get downright difficult.

So if, while you're writing, you stop mid-sentence to consider which word you should use, give yourself some bonus points just for giving it some thought. Although the results might look the same, making a bonafide error after some consideration is loads better than simple laziness.

Give yourself a break. No matter how vigilant you are, you'll get it wrong sometimes. I know I have, and I will again. If you just notice that there's something there that you need to consider, though, you're already ahead of the game.


I am a big fan of neologisms. If you'd rather pufficate than smoke a cigarette, be my guest. If you want to refer to those annoying swarms of gnats as bugnadoes, more power to you. And if you're trying to work off your flablets instead of your love handles, good luck!

But if you're just adding -wise to the end of a word, you aren't showing a lot of creativity. Word-wise and artistry-wise, it's just plain lazy. Utilization-wise, I used to think that it was mostly a sportscaster thing, but I keep hearing it in other situations, both business-wise and social-wise.

Annoying-wise, it's right up there with literally for me. Stop it already!
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