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Unnecessarily unnecessary


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"Newspapers the world over made space for the Falling Man in their Sept. 12, 2001, editions. But the widespread publicity sparked a debate as to whether the image was too gratuitous for public consumption. 'To me, it's a real quiet photograph,' Drew argued. Unlike fellow AP photographer Nick Ut's Pulitzer-winning 1972 shot of a naked 9-year-old girl fleeing a napalm attack in Vietnam or Drew's famous photos of Bobby Kennedy's bloody dying breaths, 'There's no violence in it,' he said."

Gratuitous means "unnecessary"; it doesn't fit with intensifiers like too. If something is unnecessary, it's unnecessary. The image here may have been "gratuitously violent," it may have been "too violent," but it wasn't "too gratuitious." (The picture was of a man in mid-air, falling head down from the top of the burning World Trade Center.)

Egregious is another word sometimes wrongly linked with a modifier. It means "outstandingly bad," and that's bad enough. Too egregious is gratuitous.

"Geographically, the Andes are an unlikely birthplace for a major staple crop. The longest mountain range on the planet, it forms an icy barrier on the Pacific Coast of South America 5,500 miles long ..."

Andes needs a plural verb, according to Random House, and that's what's used in the first sentence here. I think it's what should be used in the second sentence too: "The longest mountain range on the planet, they form an icy barrier ... " or "The longest mountain range on the planet, the Andes form an icy barrier ..." The sudden switch from plural to singular is jarring.

But Shemp would be unacceptable:

"The young German violinist coaxed an inordinately sweet tone out of his 1683 ex-Gingold Stradivarius violin but didn't scamp on the dramatic elements of the piece."

The reader who submitted this item believes that scamp is a mistake. She'd probably prefer skimp, or maybe scrimp. But though most of us are more familiar with scamp as a noun meaning "rascal," the verb scamp means "to perform in a careless manner." The three verbs are just about interchangeable.


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