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Clergy lingo



"Chuck Fillay, a reverend at a church near the massage parlor, spoke in favor of the ordinance."

The use of reverend as a noun, meaning "a member of the clergy", was long disapproved by many stylebooks and some sects. They said that reverend was an adjective only, meaning "worthy to be revered," and if used in front of a name as part of a title, should be preceded by "the," as in "The Rev. Chuck Fillay spoke in favor of the ordinance." But some less formal church groups always accepted reverend as a noun ("I saw the reverend coming out of the massage parlor yesterday"), and I think their view has largely prevailed in nonsectarian usage, though some of us old-timers are still more comfortable using minister or pastor


Our discussion of the fad — at least I hope it's just a fad — of using verbs where nouns belong, apparently because the verb is shorter (as in fail for failure) prompted a comment from Mitzi Davis Mozier, who is concerned about the epidemic of shortening words. She heard a radio announcer say "pic" for "picture," saw a columnist use "snap" for "snapshot", and wonders "Will we be speaking in shorthand soon?"

There always has been, and always will be, a certain amount of abbreviation of familiar words. The easy, lazy way comes naturally to many, and the short forms they create are soon adopted by everyone — phone for telephone, gas for gasoline, plane for airplane. (Although I once worked for an elderly newspaper editor who didn't allow the use of gas for gasoline, believing it caused confusion with the generic gas, a word much older than the short form of gasoline.)

But that kind of abbreviating is different from using fail for failure, or reveal for revelation. In these cases, you're throwing out a perfectly good noun and forcing a verb into a hole it doesn't fit, changing the very structure of the language. "Some of us like the real words," Ms. Mosier writes. Indeed.


Stanley Johnson writes: "A short time back I overheard a New York restaurateur describe himself in an interview, on some early-morning pseudo-news show on TV, as 'on premise all the time.' 'On premise' sounds to me like something a good logician or debater might strive to be, but someone who is in the house is 'on the premises,' I believe." And probably hoping for something "on the house."

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