David "King of the Wild Frontier" Crockett, a hero of American folklore in the first third of the nineteenth century and 1960s kidvid, said in his autobiography, "I leave this rule for others when I'm dead/Be always sure you're right -- then go ahead."
Would that more of us recollected Crockett's credo.
For instance, a usage columnist of international repute wrote in his July column about "one of Elwyn Brooks White's more memorable advisories." In response came in inquiry from Debby Brasel, who is an editor in the public relations department at Central Illinois Public Service Co., Springfield: "Shouldn't 'more memorable advisories' read 'most memorable advisories'? Or were only two advisories memorable? Please explain ...."
Better/best I should leave the explaining to John E. Warriner and his excellent text on English grammar and composition: "In standard English usage employ the comparative degree when comparing more than two. Examples: The doctors tried both penicillin and sulfanilamide; the penicillin proved to be the more (not most) effective drug. I chose this book because it was the shortest (not shorter) of the three."
My thanks to reader Brasel for the wake-up call. Meanwhile I must brush up on my Crockettiana....
* Here's one for you, a sentence lifted from a Boston Globe editorial: "The crewmen of the Russian ships won the hearts of Boston, showing up at neighborhood barbeques in South Weymouth (and other towns)." Arising from the American Spanish barbacoa -- "framework of sticks" -- the word is properly spelled barbecue.
* Another IABC word freak -- Dawn Williams, account coordinator and writer for Mobium Corporation, Chicago -- kindly sent me "a grammar goof I spotted recently ... in the National Institute of Investor Relations newsletter." In the closing graf of an article on annual report preparation, the writer declares, "With 90 percent of U.S. companies on a calendar year, the delays over triviality can really reek havoc in the print shops ...."
Here is one more compelling argument against decriminalizing otoorthography, commonly called "spelling by ear." It may look like a reek, walk like a reek, and very likely reek like a reek, but what must be printed here is wreak. Wreak is pronounced reek, but it means "1. To inflict (vengeance or punishment) upon a person. 2. To express or gratify (anger, malevolence, or resentment); vent. 3. To bring about; cause: wreak havoc." (American heritage 3rd Ed.) The dictionary's Usage Note at wreak reminds the searcher of yet another possible problem: "Wreak is sometimes confused with wreck, perhaps because the wreaking of damage may leave a wreck: The storm wreaked (not wrecked) havoc along the coast. …