Columns » Words

Words, Jan. 28


Error puts me out of types:

“Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary, said that while today is an ‘anniversary of types' of Barack Obama's Jan. 20, 2009, swearing-in, nothing special is planned by the staff to mark Obama's first year as president.”

As nouns, sort and type mean pretty much the same thing. Theoretically, you could use them interchangeably. But we're dealing with id-iom here, and idiom is “A phrase that has a meaning greater than its constituent parts might suggest and that must therefore be learned inde-pendently of the traditional definitions of its constituent parts.” Idiom is what we actually say, even when the normal rules might indicate that we say something else. The phrase that means “of one sort or another, of an indefinite kind” is of sorts. Of types won't do. Just as neither put down with nor put up from means “tolerate.” The idiomatic phrase that does is put up with.

“Held in the heart of Hollywood, the festival will screen more than 50 of the most iconic movies of all time at landmark loca-tions.” …

“The hotel was later identified as the Jessie, and by evening, tourists were already snapping pictures of the city's latest iconic monument to scandal.” …

“Favre is an icon among NFL quarterbacks.” …

“Both McCain, R-Ariz., and Lieberman, I-Conn., said U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan were critical to defeating terrorists … ”

Polly W. Doodle writes: “I'm sure tired of seeing icon and iconic in everything I read. Can't we give them a rest? Also, how can we have ‘50 of the most iconic movies.' Something is either iconic (pertaining to an icon) or it's not. There are no degrees of iconicism.”

Well put, Polly. I note also that somebody slipped a ringer into your “icon” list. Senator Lieberman may well be an icon (“an idol”) to a cer-tain undesirable class of people — the underhanded, the disloyal — but “I-Conn” refers only to his political orientation and home state. I re-cently heard a rapper referred to as “an icon and an ex-con,” but Lieberman hasn't been convicted yet.

Add a comment