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Words, Dec. 18



Jason Rouby asks, “Did you know that every time someone uses ‘disinterested' to mean ‘uninterested' an angel dies?” No, but I'm not surprised. (Honest to a fault, Mr. Rouby advises that he got his information from Roy Blount Jr.'s “Alphabet Juice,” a book he recommends.)

In the same vein, Beverly Clary says she's had just about enough of ESPN hunting-and-fishing shows that speak of hunters “harvesting” deer and other wildlife. Every time someone uses “harvest” to mean “kill,” armies of angels die.


John Barton writes regarding “the use of the verb ‘busted' in recent articles in the Democrat-Gazette, most recently in an article on a fire at the River Market in which the reporter states that firefighters ‘busted out a window in the scorched office.' While the meaning is clear in that I understand that the window was broken out, I'm curious about the use of what I would consider a colloquialism or, at the least, a very informal style.”

The authorities seem to agree that the use of bust for “burst” or “broke” is informal. The question is, how formal do you want to be? Most newspaper writing today would be considered informal, and by that standard, bust and busted are OK. But there are still readers who expect more formality in reports of actual news, such as a fire, than in personal columns or accounts of football games. I would have written that “firefighters broke a window in the scorched office,” but I wouldn't quarrel with those who say “busted.”

The slang term meaning “broke, without money” is definitely busted, as Ray Charles sang: “Cotton is down to a quarter a pound and I'm busted.” It's hard to go wrong emulating Ray Charles.



A leading candidate for the Bureaucratese-of-the-Year Award is Kevin Martin of the Federal Communications Commission, who issued a statement criticizing a decision by the commission's other four members: “I am concerned that today's decision promotes regulatory arbitrage and is outcome-driven. It could thwart competition, harm rural America, and frustrate regulatory parity.”

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