The Word Guy: Are you a Hairsplitter or a Hogwasher?
By Rob Kyff
Published: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
It's another classic battle between the Hairsplitters and the Hogwashers!
First, see whether you can detect why hairsplitters object to the use of the capitalized words in sentences 1, 2 and 3. Then read the hairsplitters' reasons, the hogwashers' refutations and the advice of the humble handholder: me.
1. The stronger economy will IMPACT our hiring plans.
Hairsplitters: The use of “impact” as a verb should be restricted to physical collisions or to the wedging of physical objects or material, as in, “The meteor will impact (strike) the moon's surface,” or “The narrow space will impact (wedge) the tooth.” “Impact” should never be used in a more abstract sense to mean, “to influence, affect.”
Hogwashers: “Impact” has been used to mean, “to influence” since the 1930s. True, the term may be overused by hyperbolic politicians and bureaucrats, but it's no more objectionable than the verb “contact,” which many people scorned during the early 20th century but is now fully accepted.
Handholder: Many people still detest the use of “impact” to mean, “affect,” which they consider jargon. Avoid this usage.
2. The ENORMITY of his generous donation was astounding.
Hairsplitters: “Enormity” should be used only for something of great wickedness, viciousness or evil, as in “the enormity of the dictator's crimes.” It should never be used to refer to anything that is good or even neutral. The correct word for those meanings is “enormousness.”
Hogwashers: “Enormity” comes from the Latin “e, ex” (out) and “norma” (rule), so it can refer to anything that is much larger than the norm, whether it's evil or not. As the late William Safire wrote, “The time has come to abandon the ramparts on enormity's connotation of wickedness.”
Handholder: I agree with Bill.
3. HOPEFULLY, they will reach an agreement.
Hairsplitters: “Hopefully” should not be used as a sentence-modifying adverb to mean “it is to be hoped.” Technically, “Hopefully, they will reach an agreement” means that they will reach an agreement in a hopeful manner.
Hogwashers: We use adverbs such as “mercifully,” “frankly” and “thankfully” this way all the time, e.g., “Mercifully, the package arrived on time.” So the condemnation of “hopefully” as a sentence-modifying adverb is outmoded and silly.
Handholder: I'm with the hog-washers. Hopefully, you'll agree with me.
Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to Wordguy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Avonmore parents enter child with genetic disorder in contest for wheelchair-accessible van
- Work on tournament-class dek hockey rink in Bloomfield to begin
- Carlynton, Chartiers Valley reaffirm security in wake of FR school stabbings
- Kovacevic: Panic over Pirates? In April?
- Heyl: Democratic primary voters in South Hills get little info from campaign ads
- Hempfield church offers rides to shut-ins for Holy Thursday service
- Bridge work a priority for PennDOT in Westmoreland
- Allegheny Township supervisors agree to rezone land for farming
- South Union woman charged with vehicular homicide
- Pennsylvania sting scouted private liquor store sites
- New Kensington police decline to identify stabbing victims amid investigation