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Words April 28

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Good hangtime: Headline on a story about a basketball player who might or might not remain with the team: “Sullivan’s standing up in air, coach says.” From Neil Ragan of Pocahontas: “I frequently see ‘different than’ in sentences that I believe require the use of ‘different from.’ Would you mind tackling this particular grammatical minefield?” Since I barely have a grammatical leg to stand on as is, I’ll let Random House clear a path through the minefield: “Although it is frequently claimed that different should be followed only by from, not by than, in actual usage both words occur and have for at least 300 years. From is more common today in introducing a phrase, but than is also used: New York speech is different from (or than) that of Chicago. Than is used to introduce a clause: The stream followed a different course than the map showed. In sentences of this type, from is sometimes used instead of than; when it is, more words are necessary: a different course from the one the map showed. Regardless of the sentence construction, both from and than are standard after different in all varieties of spoken and written American English. In British English, to frequently follows different: The early illustrations are very different to the later ones.” We used to have waiters and waitresses. When the push for nonsexist language came along, some people wanted to call them all waiters. According to the Cambridge Guide to English Usage, waitron was once proposed as a unisex term. It didn’t catch on. Server seems to be taking over now. I asked an insider to clear it all up for me. She replies: “Server is the correct term in the biz. It’s what I put on my tax forms. I like waitress, though. It’s sexier. A waitress denotes to me someone who works on the truck-stop or cocktail circuit. Never heard of waitron, don’t like it. Sounds like we’re cyborgs or something. When I tended bar, I insisted on bartender, not barmaid. The former sounds more dignified.”

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