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Words Aug. 4

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“Found lying under a tree, the severely beaten young man wore a distinctive brown uniform. When he regained consciousness, he said he was an escapee from the Hutchinson Youth.” H. W. Fowler had no use for escapee, calling it “a superfluous word that should not be allowed to usurp the place of escaper. One might as well call deserters desertees.” Fowler seems to have lost the battle. A newer authority, the Cambridge Guide to English Usage, says that while escaper is the older of the two, escapee now outnumbers escaper 15 to 1 in American and Australian usage. In Britain, the two are much more evenly matched, but escapee still has a majority. The Cambridge Guide continues:“Other agent words based on escape belong to different worlds altogether. For an escapist, it’s all in the mind, and for the escapologist, it is the dramatic art or sport of extricating yourself Houdini-like from seemingly inescapable cages, chains or ropes.” When the bow breaks, the cradle will sink: “In June, he earned a lot of attention after launching a verbal shot across the opposition’s bough at the state Democratic Party’s Northwest Arkansas office opening.” “I was recently put down by a so-called friend for saying ‘chomping at the bit.’ I was told the correct term is ‘champing at the bit’ and ‘chomping’ was a redneck term. Is this true?” Random House says that “champ,” as in “to bite upon or grind, especially impatiently; to chew vigorously or noisily” can be pronounced either “champ” or “chomp.” The spelling “chomp” is acceptable also, though “champ” is said to be more common. From the classifieds: “ENGINEER, PE. Application deadline: August 6, 2005. Grade 22 — Salary is commiserate with experience.” They mean commensurate. The engineers won’t notice. Louise Tribble says an article on a TV station’s web site told of four firefighters being electrocuted, but went on to say they were in stable condition at a local hospital. She writes: “I always assumed that electrocution meant death by means of electrical shock.” It does.

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