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Words, Dec. 3



A semi-professional lawyer quotes the opening sentence in an Arkansas Court of Appeals opinion: “This case illustrates the proverb, ‘When a piece of paper blows into a law court, it may take a yoke of oxen to drag it out.' ” (When a lawyer gets his hand in your pocket, it may take a yoke of oxen to drag that out too. But I digress.)

Our correspondent writes, “I never knew a pair of oxen was a yoke, though I knew a yoke bound them together.”

A yoke is “a device for joining together a pair of draft animals, especially oxen, usually consisting of a crosspiece with two bow-shaped pieces, each enclosing the head of an animal.” It's also “a pair of animals suitable for yoking.” A yoke is not “the yellow center of an egg.” That's a yolk, but the two words are sometimes confused. Garner's Modern American Usage quotes a Wall Street Journal columnist — “But now that information is king, members of the media monde have thrown off the yolk [read yoke] of oppression and now mostly cover each other, cutting out silly distractions.” (My old Random House seems to suggest that yoke and yolk can be used interchangeably. My old Random House is wrong.)


One debri at a time:

“The clock is ticking on finding debris before they spread out and before they sink or disappear.”

“Debris” with a plural pronoun? I never saw that before. To find debris, you must do so before it spreads out, it sinks or it disappears.


Maybe some meth died in the war on drugs:

“14 arrested so far in drug inquest.”

Lou Brishis writes: “Inquest? Who got killed?”

Nobody yet, apparently, and it's true that we generally think of an inquest as having to do with someone's death. But strictly speaking, inquest can have broader application. A dictionary defines inquest as “a legal or judicial inquiry, usually before a jury, especially an investigation made by a coroner into the cause of death.” 


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