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Words April 14

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“More than a dozen Japanese tourists were injured, but none of the injuries were serious, authorities said.” … “Perhaps none of them are as memorable as Bill O’Reilly. But who is, really?” … None is a contraction of “no one.” There was a time when many authorities — and most newspapers — said that none always requires a singular verb. Times have changed. Today, none appears as often with a plural verb (as in the examples above) as with a singular verb. Wilson Follett writes that “in some contexts, none means not a single one, making singularity emphatic, whereas in other contexts it means no two, no few, no several, no fraction of many. In None of us is entitled to cast the first stone the singular meaning is hardly mistakeable; in None of the commentators agree on the meaning of this passage the plural meaning is equally clear.” Follett also has comforting words for those who don’t see the distinction between singular and plural as clearly as he does: “Often the number we give it makes no difference.” KABF radio personality Amy B says she was watching a video of a Chinese movie the other night, and was taken aback when, for one brief, shining moment, the spoken Chinese dialogue matched exactly with the English subtitle. The word was kowtow. Kowtow is indeed of Chinese origin. Originally, it meant “to touch the forehead to the ground while kneeling, as an act of worship, reverence, apology, etc., especially in former Chinese custom.” Today, it more often means — in English, anyway — “to act in an obsequious manner; show servile deference.” A lot of words came into English from other languages. Years ago, someone told me a story similar to Amy B’s. This person was watching an Italian movie with English subtitles, and suddenly, fleetingly, the spoken Italian fit the written English perfectly. The moment occurred as a waiter in the movie leaned forward, held out a tray, and said “Antipasto?” Fitted or fit? Both are standard as the past tense of the verb, but fit has become more common in American English.

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