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Whiff, batter


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"Two of the four arcing, underhand pitches thrown to Harper by Steven Marcus were off-target. So was Harper's first cut, which was an awkward whiff."

I recall that in the old days, before designated hitters and steroids, it took three cuts to make a whiff. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary says that the noun whiff is "a strikeout," and the verb whiff is, first, "For a pitcher to strike out a batter" (Koufax whiffed Mantle) and, second, "For a batter to strike out" (Casey whiffed in the ninth with men on base). But at the bottom of the entry, Dickson says the verb whiff can also mean "to swing at a pitch without touching the ball." Maybe this use, once rare, is becoming predominant.

Smithsonian magazine's list of the best small towns in America includes, at No. 14, "Siloam Springs, AK — pop. 15,200. An Ozark setting, a preserved Main Street, performing arts aplenty." Gets a little nippy in the winter, though.

"John Edwards' first reaction when he learned his mistress may be pregnant was to downplay the chances he was the father ... "

A more formal term is sequence of tenses, but in the city rooms of yesteryear, it was called the "said-would rule," and newcomers were expected to learn it, to write "He said he would be exonerated," not "He said he will be exonerated." If one insists on using the present tense, make it present all the way: "He says he will be exonerated."

In the case of Edwards, he learned (past tense) in 2007 that his mistress might (past tense) be pregnant. That's the basic rule. The usage can get more complicated at times. Garner's Modern American Usage refers to the "ongoing-truth exception": He said yesterday that he is Jewish, not He said yesterday that he was Jewish.

There's no exception for the kind of thing that's seen regularly in the daily paper's "Police beat": "A man was arrested late Wednesday night after police say he fired a shotgun at his brother and hid in his house for three hours until he was removed by the Little Rock police SWAT team." What's that present-tense say doing in the middle of all those past-tense verbs? And after after, to boot?


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