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Coming or going?



"What's the difference between immigrate and emigrate? The cops are closing in and I need to do one or the other pretty quick." — Hartley Persude

This is one of those things like who or whom that I wish the authorities would simplify. I favor using whom only immediately after a preposition ("to whom it may concern") because otherwise you get into situations where picking who and whom takes more time than it's worth. Similarly, I always have to look up immigrate and emigrate and it's a nuisance, especially if I'm the one the cops are after.

Emigrate from, immigrate to, that's the rule. ("My grandparents emigrated from Greenland seeking shorter nights." "My grandparents immigrated to the U.S. to create jobs and avoid estate taxes.") But it's not as helpful as it sounds. Isn't an immigrant who's come to the U.S. from Mexico, also an emigrant who left Mexico for the U.S.?

The usage manual "Success with Words" concedes that the distinction between the two words is widely ignored, that "immigrated from" and "emigrated to" are seen fairly commonly, the justification being that the point of departure or destination is implied. Someone who came from Greenland necessarily came to some other place. "Nevertheless," Success With Words says, "it is always correct to say emigrated from and immigrated to, and far less troublesome than thinking about missing words." Not to me. Picking one word — say, immigrate — and riding it both to and from would be less troublesome.

Like flog through a goose:

"Cities taking a flogging from geese," the rather curious headline said. I realize that flog is often used figuratively, especially by headline writers, and that the writer here wasn't saying that geese are literally beating the cities with whips or sticks. Flog in headlines more commonly means "criticize severely," as in "Beebe flogs Darr; long overdue, legislators say." But even a figurative flogging doesn't seem right when you're talking about geese, and about what the geese are actually doing to the cities. "We've got to get rid of this flog!" I imagine a mayor exclaiming.

"Cities taking a fouling from geese" might work as a headline.

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