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Nixes on Exes



Munthlee Parker writes:

"I went to the George Strait concert and heard him sing 'All My Exes Live In Texas.' I knew that was wrong, but I didn't say anything. Then I read in the daily paper about a ceremony at the Airport: 'Political figures from the present and the past sprinkled the crowd. They included two former governors – ex-Sen. Dale Bumpers and Jim Guy Tucker.' I can't remain silent any longer. When will American schools start teaching the proper use of ex- ? Or are we just going to let the Chinese be the only ones who use ex- correctly? Then I guess we'll start eating with chopsticks too."

Mr. Parker may be a little too ex-cited, and I certainly hope he's wrong about the chopsticks. But strictly speaking, he's identified two errors, at least under the old rules. The usage manual "Success With Words" says "When the prefix ex- is attached to a title (as in ex-president) or a word (as in ex-husband), the resulting term designates the person who held the position immediately before the current holder. The term former should be used to refer to any previous holders of the position." The rule holds true even if the position is now vacant. Only the last person to hold it is ex-. So George Strait should have sung "My Ex Lives in Texas, And So Do All My Formers," and Bumpers should have been identified as "former Sen. Dale Bumpers." After him came Blanche Lincoln. Not there's John Boozman.

Not all the contemporary authorities are so picky about ex-. The Associated Press Stylebook says only that "usually former is better."

Remember the great pitcher Dizzing Dean?

"The financial success of the paperback became its cultural downfall. Media conglomerates bought the upstart pocket-book firms and began chasing after quick-money best-sellers ... And while paperbacks remain commonplace, they're no longer dizzingly cheaper than hardcovers."

Not highly educated, Ol' Diz probably wouldn't have noticed the misspelling here. But you'd expect more from the editors of Smithsonian magazine. The word they wanted is dizzyingly.

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