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Words, Feb. 12



Remounting the tanta:

His power finally restored, Tommy Durham could e-mail us an item from the Morning News of Northwest Arkansas concerning the ice storms in the area. “Scores of cleanup crews continue to clear roads of fallen trees across the region, but workers' safety is tantamount during the restoration process.”

Durham says, “I think ‘paramount' is the word the writer was looking for.” So do I.

This is the first time I've seen tantamount in a while, and the first time I've ever seen it used as the Northwest Arkansas reporter did. It once appeared with frequency, but only in election years and only in the phrase “tantamount to election,” meaning “equivalent to election,” as in “Winning the Democratic primary for sheriff of Conway County is tantamount to election.” In other words, the Democratic nominee will face only negligible opposition, if any, in the general election.

But I don't hear the TV commentators using tantamount anymore, possibly because of ridicule from people like William Safire, who called tantamount to election “the political pundit's favorite bromide,” and said, “An amusing election night parlor game is to count the number of times ‘tantamount to election' is used on television, a competition more rewarding to the viewer than seeing who calls the winners first on the basis of the fewest returns.”


Baring up:

“The 40 miles per hour wind-driven rain hurt … The press conference would have started 10 minutes ago had any media ventured out … but only C-Span bared the elements.” A higher power than C-Span is responsible for baring the elements, or keeping them under wraps. The writer may have been thinking of the verb bear (“endure”), but the past tense of that is bore.

Texas has long-horned reserves:

“2008 was the year we spent most of our long-horded reserves to announce the new system.” The Golden Horde of the history books was both long and wide, but I doubt that's what this writer was thinking of. Long-hoarded, surely.


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