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Words Jan. 19

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Don’t let your skivvies get skeevy:

“I find myself giving a polite brush-off to perfectly nice guys out of habit, and then realizing a day later, ‘Hey, that guy was actually pretty nice, and not skeevy. What did I just do?’ ”

I couldn’t find skeevy in a standard dictionary. The online Urban Dictionary says it’s slang for “sleazy, creepy, nasty.”

Skeevy is new to me, but I know skivvy and skivvies. That should be worth points. Skivvy is a disparaging British term for a female servant. Skivvies are underwear — or, more precisely, skivvies are “underwear consisting of a cotton T-shirt and shorts.”

Abolish abolishment:

I’m weary of reading that a legislator is seeking the abolishment of a government program, or that an errant lawyer has received an admonishment from a disciplinary body. Abolition and admonition fill the bill nicely, and are prettier besides. Abolishment and admonishment are what Garner’s Dictionary of Modern American Usage calls “needless variants” — “two or more forms of the same word without nuance or differentiation.” The Dictionary quotes H.W. Fowler: “It is a source not of strength but of weakness that there should be two names for the same thing [by-forms differing merely in suffix or in some such minor point], because the reasonable assumption is that two words mean two things, and confusion results when they do not.” Garner conludes: “To the extent possible, words and phrases rightly classifiable as needless variants ought to be dropped from the language.”

So are we agreed that abolishment and admonishment are out? I don’t want to have to go over this again.

The use of quote as a noun meaning “quotation” is rather widely accepted now — Random House endorses it, for one — but after coming across Wilson Follett’s thoughts on the subject, I may revert to the old rule that quote is only a verb. He says: “The innovation [quote as a noun] delights those who do not mind crudity if they can have succinctness. Whoever makes this choice must expect after a time to see The cite is Browning’s / The refer is not clear / The allude leaves me baffled.”

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