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Words Jan. 26

by and


Rules and relegations:

“A year ago, the Golden Eagles guard saw plenty of playing time, but his inexperience and abilities regulated him to being a role player.”

The president is (peninsular, stupid):

A high school English teacher in Bennington, Vt., gave his students a vocabulary test that upset some school patrons. Here are excerpts:

“It is frightening the way the extreme right has (balled, arrogated) aspects of the Constitution and warped them for their own agenda.”

“The fact that Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush have lied consistently about their role in Iraq has been (substantiated, largessed).”

“I wish Bush would be (coherent, eschewed) for once during a speech, but there are theories that his everyday diction charms the below-average mind, thus ensuring him of Republican votes.”

David Moyers of Hamburg writes:

“In your column this week [Jan. 12], you wrote ‘Kristi Alexander asks …’ and ‘Bill Womack writes …’. Are these people continuing to write to you all the time? What is your explanation for the use of present tense for something that clearly happened in the past?”

Will “everybody does it” suffice? That’s most of my explanation. People have been writing “The Bible tells us …” and “The Constitution says …” for ages. I suppose the reasoning is that the words themselves continue even if they were committed to paper or uttered aloud sometime back.

The Penguin Dictionary of American English Usage and Style advises “The historical present — that is, the present tense used to tell of past events — is an established rhetorical device. It suits not only historical accounts but also descriptions of books and summaries of dramatic and literary plots.”

The Penguin goes on to say that while we can use the historical present, we shouldn’t mix it with the past tense, as in this example: “Wagner in ‘The Ring’ employs six harps; and Berlioz, of course, made liberal use of the instrument.” Both of those gentlemen lived and wrote music years ago, but we can still use the present tense as long as we use it consistently. Either “employs” should be changed to “employed,” or “made” should be changed to “makes.”

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